Archive | November, 2010

Submission Etiquette

30 Nov

A Guest Post by Rachel Geertsema

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Have you ever been tempted to reply to someone who rejected you to tell her that she doesn’t know #@%$ about writing? Or have you replied to a rejection with your next work attached? I’m here, on behalf of agents and editors everywhere, to say: “For the love of all that is holy, please STEP AWAY from the computer.”

Submission etiquette is hard.  How do you know what is crossing a line and what is simply asking for another chance?  Some agents are willing to take a look at something else of yours, and even encourage you to resubmit once you’ve worked on your MS a little more.  Some editors may flat out ignore you if you try to do this.  Some interns may laugh a little at your attempts to impress (and on behalf of interns everywhere, I apologize).  However, you CAN improve your chances and gain the appreciation of an agent/editor/intern by learning some etiquette regarding submissions.

The absolute golden rule of submitting is: Find each agency/publisher’s submission policy and follow it exactly. If you learn nothing from what I have to say, please, please at least learn this.  But, aside from following submission policies, there is no hard-and-fast rule for what is or isn’t acceptable when you are submitting queries.  I’m here to guide you through this dark world and help you learn some boundaries.

  1. Don’t harass the agent/editor. Asking him if he has received your partial/full that you emailed is fine.  Emailing her every week to see if she’s looked at your MS is not.  We are busy people with a LOT of queries to wade through.  If you keep asking, a) chances are we don’t even know which is yours and so lie through our teeth, or b) we may lose interest in your MS because we’re so annoyed.
  2. Like I said above, follow the publisher’s/agency’s submission guidelines to a T. I can’t express the outrage that occurs in an editor’s heart at receiving a full MS when the publishing house’s website CLEARLY states “Please send only a query,” or when, after requesting some sample chapters, your submission contains 5 random chapters to give the “full effect” of the book.  It doesn’t.  It only creates confusion, frustration, and anger, and a less than 10% chance that it will be read.
  3. Don’t attach your new MS (or 5 others, “just in case!”) in a reply email to a rejection. At the very least, ASK if you can submit something else. And don’t work your way through the list of everything you’ve written since you were 5.  Sometimes you really do need to accept that it wasn’t meant to be.
  4. Being rejected does not give you license to do any of the following:

a) Write back saying anything aside from “Thank you for taking the time to read my submission.”  If you received a really helpful rejection, ask if you can resubmit after reworking your MS. Do not call the rejecter names, question her reasoning, or threaten him.
b) Find his Facebook/Twitter/phone number on the internet and harass him.
c) Write nasty things about her on any website like Absolute Write, Query Tracker, or any other outlet on the internet that is a cesspool of rejected authors complaining about the unfairness of life. WE READ THESE.

Once you’ve got this down, it’s time to move on to the real show.  Here are some tips and tricks that do not cross any personal or professional boundaries:

  1. For the 5th time in this post, I am begging you to follow submission guidelines exactly as they are laid out on the publisher/agency’s website. They are there for a reason, not to create rules that you are required to creatively break. Editors/agents don’t have time to wade through your creative vomit to figure out what your book is about.
  2. Spell the company’s name right, at least. I’ve lost track of how many submissions I’ve received in the past five months that have my company’s name spelled incorrectly.  If you can’t be bothered to double check that you’ve spelled things right, I can’t be bothered to be interested in your MS.
  3. Be patient, understanding, and gracious. The business of publishing is stressful and editors and agents are often doing the work of two people.
  4. Don’t provide 4 pages of your personal achievements. Unless your personal life relates to your MS, I don’t care.
  5. If you receive a form rejection, you can submit a new MS, but not in reply to that rejection. Start from scratch.  If you’ve received a personal rejection, you can ask in reply if you can resubmit in the future or if you can submit something else. Either way, send a query letter along with your MS as a formality. If you resubmit, send a brand new query letter that mentions your history with the company (as a refresher!). If you are allowed to submit something new, approach it with the same professionalism—provide a query letter or outline of your work.
  6. On the flip side, if you haven’t heard back about a query you submitted months and months ago, forget about it and move on. The publisher/agency just isn’t interested, ok? (I’ve received a number of angry phone calls from authors who say they submitted 5 months ago.  Sorry, but we’ve forgotten about submissions from 5 months ago.)

Remember that on this side of publishing, we want you to succeed as much as you do. Guidelines and policies are in place because we just don’t have the time to wade through the huge variety of submissions we would otherwise get. I can promise you that following a company’s guidelines is always noticed and appreciated by those of us who can get lost in the slush pile for days on end (and yes, I have literally spent days devoted to reading submissions in the slush pile).

Now that you have this insiders’ knowledge, you can query in complete confidence! Happy querying!

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Rachel  has spent the past year wading through slush piles at a variety of publishing companies, including a literary agency (with LTWF contributor Vanessa), academic publisher, and trade publisher. She is also a freelance editor and has nearly completed a publishing certificate at Ryerson University. She can also make the best cupcakes north of the border. You can follow her on Twitter @r_geerts.

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When multiple agents make an offer

29 Nov

by Susan Dennard

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Goofy and I are back to wrap up our last post: When an agent requests your manuscript.  So please, put on your imagination caps (or Disney caps — whatever), and imagine the snide voice-over yet again!

Also, if you want to see how I (Susan, not snide narrator) actually handled the Great Agent Hunt — from query prep, to querying, to offers, to choosing — I’m talking about it this week on my blog. 🙂

Now onwards!

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I gart too many choices...

Agents!  Everyone wants one, but no one can seem to find them.  More elusive than a bird-of-paradise, and even easier to scare off for good.  Demand far outweighs supply.

Except when it doesn’t.

More and more often these days, when a writer gets an offer, they wind up with several offers.  >1 agent wants to get their hands on the manuscript because it’s a darn good story, it’s well-written, and it’s highly commercial.

So what do you do in this situation?  How the heck do you choose just one?

First Things First

First, make sure that you have notified all other agents in possession of the manuscript and given them a response-deadline (see When an agent requests your manuscript to learn how).

Second, DO NOT REFUSE ANYONE before the time is up OR before all agents have responded.  You may, of course, make a decision, but don’t notify anyone until you’ve reached your deadline or all agents have said yay/nay.  Again, this is described in more depth in When an agent requests your manuscript.

Now onto the Famous Call.

What To Ask During The Call

Be sure to gargle plenty of salt water and practice your phone-voice.  You want to make your best impression, after all.  And also, be sure to avoid phrases like, “Garsh” or “Huh-hyuck.”  These do not give off an impression of intelligence.

Prior to the call, you should prepare a series of questions to give each agent.  Even if you have only one offer, you should do this.  Some important things to consider are:

  • How did you get to be an agent?
  • How many clients do you have now?
  • What professional organizations are you a part of?
  • Do you handle film rights?  Foreign rights?  Audio rights?
  • Are you a hands on agent?  Or do you prefer to leave all that to the writer alone?
  • In what “state” do you think my book is?  In other words, how much editing do feel it still needs?
  • What would be your timeline for submitting?
  • How often do you like to check in with your clients?
  • Do you charge any fees?  And what is your percentage?
  • What would you expect from me as a client?
  • If I sign with you, what will happen next?
  • Can I see a copy of your agency agreement?

The last question is of particular importance.  Try to see a copy of the agreement — most agents will happily comply — so you can be sure it’s a contract you want to sign.

What To Consider Next

I'm not sure this agent fits...

Once you’ve spoken to each agent on the phone, now is the time for you to DECIDE.  If there is no obvious choice — someone with whom you instantly connected and without whom the world would be dreary and gray — then now is the time to compare/contrast.  I suggest weighing pros and cons.

For example, if you want minimal agent feedback, and Agent 1 is hands-on while Agent 2 is hands-off, then Agent 2 has +1 pro and Agent 1 has +1 con.

Some aspects to consider (and that work well as pros/cons):

  • Enthusiasm (for your book, for your career)
  • Agency agreement
  • Experience
  • Hands-on/hands-off
  • Age (perhaps you’d rather work with someone close to your own age)
  • Number of clients
  • Editorial vision for your book
  • Career vision for future books
  • Submission plan for this book
  • Phone conversation (too friendly?  too cold?  not professional enough?)
  • Professional organizations
  • GUT INSTINCT

Tally it up, ponder it, dwell, moan, whatever.  Just be sure to have a decision in time to meet your own deadline!

Oh, you have decided already?  You’ve found The One you want representing you and your novel?  Well, in that case, let’s move to the final phase of this process then.

Saying “No”

Because you’ve chosen, you now have to tell all those other sweet agents “no”.  Email is the best way to do this, but it is no easy task because, to put it simply, rejection sucks.  Face it bravely, dear Writer, and if you like, use this template to help guide your words:

Dear<Agent Name>,

Thank you so much for the time and effort you spent considering me as a client.  I appreciate your enthusiasm, and even more, I appreciate your offer of representation.

After much thought, I’ve decided to decline your offer.  I ended up with several offers and was forced to make a choice.  It was an especially difficult decision because <insert something you really liked about the agent>.  I wish you the best with all your future projects, and thanks again for taking the time to consider me.

Best wishes!

Goofy

And there you have it, folks.  Don’t forget to notify your chosen agent, of course!  They’ll want to know that you’ve selected them, and they’ll want to draw up the needed paperwork quickly.

Now run around and squee your head off, for it’s definitely something you have earned.  Best of luck in your career, Fearless Writer!

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Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her manuscript is currently on submission to publishers. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

Books I’m Dying to Read

27 Nov

Click Here to enter into the livechat once it’s 3pm EST!

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Hey guys! Kat here 🙂

I don’t know about you, but life has been pretty hectic over here, and it’s only going to get crazier as we get into the holiday season (more importantly, final exam season!). In the whirlwind of tests and classes and work and revising, my reading has gone by the wayside a little. I think I’ve read more manuscripts in the past few months than I have actual books!

I love my CPs’ manuscripts to death, but there are some books I’m dying to get my hands on, too.

First up is UNWIND, a YA by Neal Shusterman. I actually have this book and everything…I even read a few chapters a while ago and then was forced to put it down for some reason and never got the chance to pick it back up. But I will, because it sounds absolutely fascinating!

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

The next book isn’t really fair, I guess, because it hasn’t come out yet, so I’m really just teasing you. But I want ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis. It’s also YA.

You can find the first chapter here, and CA Marshall, who got her paws on an ARC (can you say jealous??), gave the book a great review, here.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Here at LTWF, we cover mostly YA and MG books, but I’ve been reading more and more adult lit recently, and my next two OMG-READ books fall under that category.

THE ROOM by Emma Donoghue. It’s told from the point of view of Jack, and if you look up the book trailers they have for it on Youtube, they’re absolutely chilling in their innocence mixed in with the sinister. My campus bookstore is currently teasing me by having this book at a 20% discount…sigh…

To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born, where he and his Ma eat and play and learn. At night, Ma puts him safely to sleep in the wardrobe, in case Old Nick comes.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she’s been held for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for her son. But Jack’s curiosity is building alongside Ma’s desperation — and she knows Room cannot contain either indefinitely. …

Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.

And finally (but certainly not least!) THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE by Aimee Bender. I’ve read some of Bender’s short stories before, and her use of magical realism is very interesting. I’m not sure how it’ll translate to an entire novel, but I’m eager to find out.

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror, for her mother—her cheerful, good-with-crafts, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose.

The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

Well, those are just four books in my LONG list of books-to-read. Hope you guys have more reading time at the moment than I do 😀

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Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.

General Writing Livechat

26 Nov

ETA: Whoops! We are NOT in daylight savings time. Thanks to B for pointing that out 🙂

Click Here to enter the General Writing Livechat on Saturday, November 27th, 3PM EST!

Don’t hesitate to ask if you’ve got any questions, concerns, etc. We’re still taking pre-chat questions that will be answered/discussed first during the chat. Just leave them in a comment.

Don’t be late :P! We look forward to talking with you guys!!

Vanessa is Married!!!

26 Nov

Here at LTWF, we’re so happy to announce that Vanessa got married last weekend to Jamie Campbell! 😀

Vanessa has been amazing, running the twitter account, taking care of the Saturday Grab bags, and getting us books to review. We never even realized how much she did until she needed to take a little break to plan for her wedding. So LOTS of love for Vanessa, and a big CONGRATULATIONS!!

Have a wonderful honeymoon, V!

❤ ❤ ❤

QOTW: What Are You Thankful For?

25 Nov

Remember guys, we’re having a Livechat on Saturday at 3PM EST! Don’t miss it! We’ll be fielding any and all writing-related questions 😀

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In honor of the American celebration of Thanksgiving, we decided to answer the question, What are you thankful for this year?

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I’m feeling especially grateful this year. SO MUCH has changed in my life in the past 12 months–and so much of it is wonderful. Of course I’m grateful for my book deal, and my lovely agent, and my awesome husband, but I’m really, truly grateful for all of the amazing friends who have come into my life this year. I always thought writing was a solitary act, but it’s thanks to my writing that I’ve met so many brilliant people, who make my life brighter just by being in it. So, I’m grateful for my friends, new and old, who are there with me always–who will commiserate at bad news or bounce around screaming at good news, who will make me laugh until I cry, and who will astound and move and inspire me. My world is a better place because of you.

-The Writer With Her First Book Deal

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I’m grateful that all my family, by blood and by love, is still present and accounted for, my job is secure, and my pets (including my new dog!) are healthy, all despite some scares this year. I’m particularly grateful that my creative dam burst and flooded me with good and new ideas to work on when Antebellum finally finds its publishing home. I’m grateful for my wonderful agent who challenged and excited me with a massive rewrite, and I’m grateful that NaNoWriMo gave me the motivation and encouragement to finish it in record time.

There’s so much to be grateful for, and I think Sarah expressed it perfectly: This was probably the worst year of my life so far, but Let The Words Flow and my friends here were always a positive, safe place I could retreat to when I needed an escape. Now pretty much everything has turned around and I expect to end the year on a very positive note 🙂 LTWF taught me a TON this year both as a writer and a person, and I feel more grown up and capable of handling anything that comes my way.

-The Writer Condensing Three Books Into One

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Wow, there’s so much to be grateful for in this past year. It’s been a little over six months since I first joined LTWF, and I’m very grateful for the new friends I’ve made and all the help I’ve received.

I’m grateful for signing with my agent, Emmanuelle, and for the revisions I’ve made to HYBRID that have made it a stronger story. Heck, I finished the first draft of HYBRID this year (WOW, that seems like it happened a long time ago!), so I guess I should be grateful for that, too!

I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people this year, people from all over the world, and I’ve loved talking with each and every one of you.

There are many other things I’m grateful for, like my family and my friends and my teachers, but the list would be enormous and boring, so I’ll just end here 🙂

The Writer Revising to go on Submissions!

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A lot of great things happened to me this year, so I have a lot to be thankful for! First, I finished my senior thesis, and jumped into the world of querying. The entire experience, from writing the first draft, to revising, to querying, has taught me a lot about writing, but it’s also provided some worthwhile life lessons I won’t soon forget. I’m continually stunned and humbled by the continued support the people over at Plagiarism Haven offer. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. To the ladies who help run it, who I count amongst my dearest friends, I’m so thankful. And then there’s LTWF! I am beyond grateful to have found a home here as well. I’ve made even more friends, and gained so much knowledge about this industry, it still seems unreal. Also, I would still be dreading my future if it weren’t for my internship and the people I met this summer. This summer was the summer that changed my life, and I can’t put into words how grateful I am that Elaine and Naomi took a chance on hiring me as their intern.

But above all, I am thankful for my family. I went through a lot this year, and they stood by me through everything. They supported my decisions, and they continue to encourage me, even when I feel like giving up. The love I have for them is unparalleled, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. They’re the reason I do what I do, and they’re the reason I feel as lucky, and as thankful, as I do.

-The Writer Querying

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Well, everyone pretty much stole my answers. 🙂

Like the rest of the LTWF ladies, I have so much to be grateful for this year.  I started researching The Spirit-Hunters this time last November, and that book has been my Dream Achiever.  I never thought I’d find so much writing bliss in one year!  I’m grateful for my crit-partners and my agents.  I’m grateful for the great group here at LTWF.  I’m grateful for all the friends I’ve made here and on my main blog.  I’m grateful for the books I’ve gotten to read and critique — so much fun and so educational.

But none of my dreams would have come true if it weren’t for my husband.  He has been more supportive than I ever dared hope someone could be.  He reads my crappy first drafts; he splurges on office supplies for me; he bakes me brain food (a.k.a. cookies) when I need them; and he cheers me up when my self-doubts take control.  All of my writing victories have been his victories too, and sharing that joy with him is such an amazing feeling.  Honestly, he is the Only Reason I’ve gotten this far, and I can never thank him enough for that.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

The Newest LTWF Contributor!

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This year has been incredible for me. There is so much that I am grateful for!

It’s almost impossible to believe that it was just earlier this year that I signed with Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, or that it was just a few weeks later that I joined Let the Words Flow. Both of these events have brought such good things into my life. I also began working on a new WIP recently, and I can see how much my own writing continues to improve. I am so thankful for this ongoing growth as a writer. I know I owe it to my agent, my colleagues here at LTWF, and to our readers, who through comments and posts on their own blogs have continually taught me how to be a better writer. Thank you all so much!

This year was also significant for me because I survived a very serious car accident. I would never choose something like that as a means of growth, but I did learn a lot about persistence and patience as I came back from my injuries.

Which brings me to my family. (After all, they took excellent care for me during the six weeks I was bedridden!) I am so fortunate to be blessed with a husband who supports my goals and never complains that the house cleaning and laundry take a back seat to my writing, and a son who not only puts up with the fact that I’m “not like the other moms,” but actually seems to be proud of that fact! My family makes me smile every day, and for that, I am truly thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! ❤

The Writer Revising To Go On Submissions!

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I am grateful for so many great things! My 3 year old had her first *real* snow day yesterday, and seeing her throw back her head and laugh while the sled went down the hill was a definite highlight of my life, let alone the day. 🙂

I am grateful for my wonderful family and friends, and that we’ve all managed to stay healthy.

And…of course, my talented clients, who wow me every day and remind me of why I love my job.

I’m grateful for the readers who purchased PRADA AND PREJUDICE or YOU WISH and sent them into their sixth and third printings, respectively. I’m grateful for wonderful books to read and a warm house when it is freeeezing outside.

Happy T-day everyone! Hope you have a wonderful meal and a family to spend it with.

The Writer and Literary Agent

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What are you thankful for today?

How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis

24 Nov

by Susan Dennard

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Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

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Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from HarperTeen on July 24th, 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

Intertextuality

23 Nov

So, a while back Julie had an excellent post on symbolism, and the impact it can have on your manuscript. Symbols and motifs are an excellent way to deepen your manuscript, to enrich it in order to enhance the reading experience. Another great way to do so, in my opinion, is intertextuality.

Intertextuality, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term – like Microsoft Word, apparently, judging by the squiggly red underline I’m getting – is very basically the referencing of one text within another. None of us write in vacuums– it’s not just us and our laptop, or us and our moleskine journals. We either consciously or subconsciously draw and build upon concepts that have already been handled.

Too many references to past works can spoil things – it can make your work seem clichéd and derivative. But used properly, intertextuality can be an incredibly effective tool to deepen the themes and ideas in your manuscript, or to say something about your characters in a subtle way.  It’s subjective to both your personal preference and the style of the work you’re writing, how much of it you use.

Two great examples of using intertextuality to great effect, are John Green’s Paper Towns and Jandy Neson’s The Sky is Everywhere. In The Sky is Everywhere, Jandy Nelson references several things to underpin her text – the example that flows throughout the novel is Wuthering Heights, but that’s not the example I want to talk about – the purpose is quite obvious, to draw on a literary tradition of intense romances to strengthen the one in The Sky is Everywhere.

The references I do want to talk about crop up after the protagonist has become disillusioned with Wuthering Heights (since it ends rather tragically). She starts trying to list stories where lovers triumph – Love in the Time of Cholera and Jane Eyre, to be specific. These references tell us a few things about Lennie. For one, she’s clutching at straws with her love life, therefore the listing of literature For another, she’s intelligent, and lastly, she’s an optimist because despite being rather down on her luck she’s still seeking out hope.

In John Green’s Paper Towns, the intertextual references are more frequent and in depth. Green frequently quotes Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. This does a couple of things – as with The Sky is Everywhere it establishes the intelligence of the characters. It also adds a literary edge to the mystery at the heart of the novel. More importantly, references to Song of Myself are used to reinforce Q’s character arc at various points in the novel, and also to emphasis the questions at the heart of the novel — such as whether we can ever completely know an individual other than ourselves.

One way to include intertextuality without negatively affecting the pace, or incorporating it in a clunky way, is to think about what purpose it serves – that is, what you’re trying to highlight. Is it character, theme, or plot? If you can focus your purpose, you should be able to deepen things with more ease.

Another way to be efficient about enhancing your manuscript in this way is understanding your character. Not every character is going to sound authentic referencing Walt Whitman, or Love in the Time of Cholera – some are going to reference Harry Potter, instead, or Shakespeare. Not every character will make these references explicit .

Ultimately, though, the best way to understand how much or little intertextuality you’d like to incorporate is to read widely. How much or little you include is likely to be subjective to you as a writer. So, do you find intertextuality effective? Do you like to use it in your own writing, and if so what are your tips for using it effectively?

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Vahini Naidoo is a seventeen-year-old writer, and  recent high school graduate who will be attending University at an as yet unknown location next year. Her edgy YA novel THE GNOME IS WATCHING is currently on submission to publishers. She’s represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Chekhov’s Gun – How to Make this Technique Work for You

22 Nov

by Julie Eshbaugh

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The term Chekhov’s Gun refers to a literary technique built around playwright Anton Chekhov’s assertion that, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”  (This quote is found in endless variations.  This particular version is from Gurlyand’s Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No 28, July 11, p. 521)

Though this pearl of wisdom may be quite clear and helpful to you the next time you find yourself designing the set for your local community theater’s production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, perhaps you are currently wondering how Chekhov’s advice could possibly benefit you as a novelist.

First, let’s analyze what Chekhov’s Gun is NOT.  Although the technique is often mistaken for advice concerning foreshadowing, seeing it as such is a bit backwards.  Chekhov’s advice is less concerned with what should be included to hint at the coming events (what we generally think of as foreshadowing) than it is with what should not be included.  Without going too far into a discussion of foreshadowing – a technique worthy of its own post for another day – I think we can agree that true foreshadowing concerns references to plot elements, characters, or even eventual outcomes in the conflict that are made early in a story with seeming insignificance.  If Chekhov’s Gun were truly a technique concerning foreshadowing, Anton Chekhov might have said something more like, “If a pistol will be fired in the second act, it ought to be hung on the wall in the first act.”

Instead, Chekhov’s Gun is more a warning against unnecessary clutter in your story.  Chekhov is advising us writers against frivolous detail.  Let’s look at his literal example of the gun again.  In Chekhov’s play, UNCLE VANYA, a handgun appears as a seemingly meaningless prop early on in the action.  However, its presence on the stage becomes much more significant late in the drama when the character of Uncle Vanya grabs the pistol and tries to murder another character in a rage.

If we look at this example of Chekhov’s own implementation of Chekhov’s Gun, we witness what is often thought of as “economy of detail.”  For us as novelists, “economy of detail” can be used to keep our writing tight.  Utilizing the technique of Chekhov’s Gun helps to maintain tight stories, tight scenes, and even tight paragraphs.

Often, our first draft will contain lots of extraneous “firearms” lying about.  For an example, I can point to a recent cut I made in the first chapter of my current WIP.  Originally, I planned that the arrival of an older relative would cause the teenaged main character to be forced by her parents to play the piano and sing.  I imagined this to be a family ritual (one that, I must admit, I took from my own life experience.  Ugh…)

I wrote this scene into the first draft.  I intended this performance to have meaning later in the story.  However, I changed my mind about later events, and now there was no real purpose for this “command performance” by my MC, accept for the fact that it revealed a bit of her character.  Otherwise, it did nothing to move the story forward, and, in fact, slowed the pace of the all-important opening of the story.

Still, I hated to cut it.  After all, I’d ruminated quite a bit on this particular experience as I’d developed my ideas about this character.  I imagined this ritual humiliation at the hands of her family as quite significant.  Yet, when I re-read the draft, I realized it was meaningless to the story as a whole.  The piano, her singing, her embarrassment – none of it had any significance at all once the later part of the draft had been rewritten.  I realized this scene was an extraneous pistol hanging on the wall.  So I cut it.  (It wasn’t easy, of course.  I often quote the truism that as writers, we are forced to “kill our darlings.”  As meaningless and distracting as it was, I loved this little scene.  So I cut and pasted it into a character study about my main character.  Now it can live on, if only for me.)

Any discussion of Chekhov’s Gun inevitably leads to thoughts of the opposite technique – the technique of the Red Herring.  Writers of mysteries, especially, may be wondering how the technique of Chekhov’s Gun can coexist with the technique of the Red Herring, which is a plot device that is intentionally designed to divert attention.  For example, in a mystery, attention may be drawn away from the truly guilty character by deceptively casting an innocent character in a suspicious light.

But when a Red Herring is employed, it isn’t extraneous clutter at all.  It is in the story for a genuine and necessary purpose, although that purpose might be to divert the reader’s attention from the true direction of the story.  The use of a Red Herring may, in the most literal sense, break the rule of Chekhov’s Gun, in that there may be “a pistol hung on the wall” in an early scene that will not, in fact, be fired in a later scene.  But when the rule of Chekhov’s Gun is considered to encompass the idea of “economy of detail,” then the “pistol” used as a Red Herring fits within the rule, as it is “hung on the wall” for a willful purpose.  Eventually, the reader will understand why the “pistol” was there all along.

Can you think of stories that neglected the rule of Chekhov’s Gun?  (Many times a television series is cancelled before “the pistol hung on the wall” gets the chance to go off!)  Have you ever had to cut a scene because it distracted your story’s progress and broke the rule of Chekhov’s Gun?  Do you think there are good exceptions to this rule?  I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments!

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.

 

Holiday Wish List – The LTWF Version!

20 Nov

I’m always stumped as to what to request for the holidays. One year I asked for hangers. Yes, like clothes hangers. True, I could always go out and buy some more for myself, but then what would people get me for holiday gifts?!

This year, I decided there had to be a better solution. What would make me happier or better my life as a writer? I asked the girls of LTWF, but then we decided to expand the question to our readers, and here are the results:

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LTWF Holiday Wish List

Dreaming BIG:

  • Signing with an agent
  • Getting a book deal
  • Making the NY Times Bestseller’s List!
  • One-on-one discussion with your favorite writer, alive or dead
  • Critique from an editor
  • College Tuition Scholarships
  • Scrivener for Windows
  • Free Time

Essentials For Surviving the Publishing Wilderness:

  • Journals/Notebooks
  • Moleskines
  • Pretty Pens
  • Bookstore gift cards
  • Bookshelves
  • Teapot/Teacups

For Your Sanity:

For Your Reading Pleasure:

Words Of Wisdom:

‘Research’:

  • Subscriptions to Fashion Magazines (for outfit research!)
  • Subscriptions to Science Magazines (for technology research!)
  • iTouch/iPhone (for the writing-related apps!)

Writing-Related Goodies:

And our #1 Most-Requested Holiday Gift….

Billy in a HARRY POTTER costume.

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What else are you asking for? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add it to the post!