Pub Rants

Cereal Killers

 23 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: The International Date Line just fascinates me. See, right now it’s about twenty after noon on Saturday here in Auckland but in Denver, it’s 6:22 p.m. on a Friday night. So am I blogging on the weekend or not?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DANCING IN THE DARK by Bruce Springsteen

I love the gals who organized that RWNZ conference but boy, it was brutal getting up early so I could do the 7 a.m. aptly named workshop called Cereal Killers. I’m pretty positive I killed the appetite of anyone who attended.

This is one of those tough workshops where attendees can submit the first 2 pages of their manuscript and I treat all the entries as if I were reading my slush pile. The point is to give the attendees an inside look at how an agent thinks and reads.

It’s voluntary and I give big kudos to all who participated but this type of workshop can be brutal. I actually try and strike the balance between being honest and being constructive with my comments. Sounds easy but it’s not.

This time I was smart. I gave everyone the “this workshop is not for the faint of heart” warning before it began. No one ran screaming out the door—either before or after the workshop so I might have succeeded.

Interestingly enough, today really crystallized a couple of reasons why I might pass on asking for a full manuscript. I haven’t really articulated these points before and thought they might be worth sharing.

I’ll pass on sample pages if

1. the author is intruding on the story by giving a recap of what the characters are thinking and feeling when that info is already clear via the scene and dialogue that proceeded it.

2. the author needs to significantly tighten the writing by combining sentences to better detail the action.

3. the author utilizes description that’s not natural to the scene unfolding.
(The example today was that a character had to force her hand away from her mouth. So think about it for a moment. Literally (in the physical sense), someone else can force your hand away but you wouldn’t really do so on your own.)

4. the author has a character whose thoughts and actions are incongruent to the scene unfolding.
(And I don’t mean this in terms of satire where that construct is often deliberate. I mean when it is unintentionally done and it simply creates reader confusion on how to interpret the scene or the character’s motive.)

23 Responses

  1. Ryan Field said:

    Probably one of the best posts on this blog. It cuts right into some important things that writers often miss because they are too close to their mss. But when these things are pointed out clearly it’s easier to recognize them.

  2. Kanani said:

    Seems to me that a lot of what you are rejecting are writing gaffes that could be ironed out in a critique process with a group or other individuals prior to submitting.

    Are you talking about that?

    Glad you’re having a good time. Hope you can stay for at least three weeks. There’ tons to do down there!

  3. Ray-Anne said:

    Thank you for taking the time to record those tips. I am almost ready to submit my first three chapters to a publisher, and will certainly review the pages with fresh eyes.

  4. Anonymous said:

    I think critique groups can sometimes not be as helpful as some are thinking. These are also authors looking to get published…and have you ever thought that they don’t see these mistakes either? That they do the SAME exact things in their own writing? It is hard to find really helpful feedback sometimes.

    What helps me is to set aside my MS for a few weeks, then re-read whatever self-editing book you like best. Once you make it through that, pick up your book and start editing.

  5. Annamae Neptune said:

    When these mistakes are made have you ever liked the material enough to give the writer a chance to clean up the manuscript?

  6. Kim Stagliano said:

    Oh my gosh it’s so nice to get meaty details! We hear so much “generalized” advice elsewhere. These points are truly helpful. Thank you! Safe travels home.

  7. SharBee said:

    Kristin, as one of the attendees of the workshop, I can say honestly it was the most informative parts of the conf. for me 🙂 Brutal yes, but to get the chance to see how you work was just wonderful. The “warning” was great and set exactly the right tone! We really appreciate you visiting NZ and sharing your knowledge so engagingly. Happy Travels home 🙂 Sharyn

  8. Dara Edmondson said:

    Great info – thanks. I love specific comments that help me edit in the here and now.
    Attending such a workshop would be frightening but sounds like it could be totally worth the pain.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I have to agree that this list is much more informative than the generic dos and don’ts normally offered on blogs. Thanks!

    I have an idea about what constitutes tight writing. I usually think of this as using characters parsimoniously, and have each scene serve multiple purposes (e.g. reveal character, move plot etc.)But I don’t really understand what is meant in #2 about “combining sentences to better detail the action”. Does anyone want to help me out here?

  10. Kaz Augustin said:

    Actually, Kristin, I don’t quite agree with point (3). Think about a scene where the heroine, say, has to open a door and confront some kind of unspeakable terror. She knows she’s going to be afraid; her teeth are chattering, her hands are shaking, she’s alone, BUT she forces herself to turn that doorknob.

    I’ve been in situations where I’ve forced myself to do things. It’s not unnatural because my mind is forcing my body to do something neither–really–want to do but feel somehow compelled (for whatever reason) to do. The strenuous exercise routine I’m about to do in half-an-hour also springs to mind. 😛

  11. Anonymous said:

    [I]t’s about twenty after noon on Saturday here in Auckland but in Denver, it’s 6:22 p.m. on a Friday night. So am I blogging on the weekend or not?

    Hey, to people in Auckland, you always blog on the weekend. 🙂

  12. Brit Blaise said:

    Some of these comments leave me scratching my head. (My hand forced its way up there and I threatened to cut it off before it would listen.)(I hate it when that happens.) As one who uses too many words to get my point across, I appreciate your candor. I’m also glad I didn’t contribute to your cereal killings. Breakfast is my favorite meal! And I’m finished being a smart @$$. I’m sitting here right now polishing three chapters I promised eons ago, and I don’t know how to make it right. (my insanity) One day, right before a cross-country move, I decided to query 10 agents and editors. I used email…the nails for my coffin come special delivery that way. Within a few days I had seven requests…get the picture. One of them was from God. And he emailed the following day and said to send everything I had. Now I have another request from the house where God works thanks to a CP who is an author there.
    Could life get more complicated? This is where it would nice to have an agent. No wait! I might have had one if I’d answered their requests…

  13. Lorelei said:

    I desperately hope a couple of members of my writing group read this. I tell them to please tell the story and stop telling me what every character thinks about what’s happening, and then I get blasted for “not understanding” their work. Sigh. I just want to read a story. I’ll do the thinking about that’s going on, thank you very much.

  14. Vicki said:

    If you’re still on vacation I hope you’re having fun.

    Just thought I’d join in with the “We miss you’s”.

    I linked to your blog today on the T13. 🙂

  15. Anonymous said:

    Pennyoz said…
    There are critique groups and there are critique groups. I have one which is more like writing partners. Different people bring different values.
    One of them is a Professor of English. One of them is now a screenwriter.
    You can tighten your writing by just going through and eliminating words like “that”. Try wiping out “there”.
    There was a policeman at the gate.
    can turn into:
    A policeman waited at the gate.
    or dialogue:
    “A policeman at the gate? Yikes!”
    or thought:
    Oh no! A policeman at the gate must mean…

    Just recently I picked up how many times one of our group had written “her” which meant she had too many She’s which can weight down an m/s and make the going tough.

    Lorelei, our group encourages pointing out good and bad. And there are some people who just aren’t geared for critiquing. I think its like a pair of new shoes. Some of them will never fit. But if they don’t, you stop trying to wear them after a while.

    But generally it’s good to have a group of sympathetic souls who are willing to go find some of the pesky editorial glips before it’s called finished. There’s always something that slips through unnoticed.

  16. Chumplet said:

    The character forcing a hand reminds me of Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein, and also Peter Seller’s character in Dr. Strangelove. Those fake hands sure had minds of their own!

  17. John said:

    As an indie publisher (and author) I’d like to add one more take:
    I just read a submission in one of the genres I’m interested in (SF, modern fantasy, WW2 fiction) and I rejected it because the writing – though a third novel – was simply to raw.

    The premise was original and it’s a good story, but I just cannot face dealing with the author during a 100,000 word substantive edit.
    Besides, some authors don’t easily accept editing at the level the MS requires. And since I am always full of well-paid editing work, it is hard for me to commit to editing a complete MS for free, plus all the other expenses necessary to bring a book properly to market.
    What Im saying is: the text has to flow well and be polished. I think “diamonds in the rough” have a hard time finding a market these days. I’d be interested in Kristen’s opinion on this.
    – Citiria Publishing