Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Writing Questions and Answers

I asked if you had any writing questions and the first one in the comments section on Sunday was from Caroline who asked:


could you answer the question (from your experience) as to whether you should write the whole book or just stick with the first 3 chapters and a synopsis when sending off to HM&B. Thanks - Caroline.

Well, to start my answer, I'd have to ask another question. And that is -

Can you " just stick with the first 3 chapters and a synopsis when sending off to HM&B". Becasue I never have been able to and I doubt that I ever would.


It really depends what you're writing for, I suppose. If the sole aim is to reach for publication and to plan your writing only around editorial dictates and stick strictly to the guidelines then I can see there could be a need to get editorial approval on the characters and plotline you've embarked on. And then follow their directions in the hope of turning it a book.




But if you are writing that particular book because you have to tell the characters' stories. If there are voices in your head and scenes appearing daily in front of your mind's eye, then you are a writer - a creator of fiction - and writers write. Writers also have to tell the story, whether anyone ever publishes it or not. And I for one - and I'm sure so many other writers I know - couldn't write three chapters of a story and then abandon it




I understand that you might feel that if you send of the 3 chapters and a synopsis and an editor at M&B says 'sorry this just doesn't work for us. The characters don't convince, the plot doesn't fit into any of of very specialised lines of publication' that you'd feel bettter about only having lost those three chapters. If you've gone ahead and written the whole book, all 50,000 words of it, you've lost so much more.




But, no you haven't - not really. No writing is ever wasted. While writing that book, even if it's totally rejected, you'll have learned so much more about yourself and your writing. You'll have learned the commitment it takes to write those 50,000 words. Many people I know start out on writing, thinking 'Well, a M&B novel is such a short book - dead easy really - I'll bang out one of those in no time.' And then they get to, say Chapter Three, and find that they have 9/10,000 words - and another 40,000 to go. And they've run out of steam.




So for me, the important thing to learn is - Can you actually finish a book? Beginning, middle and end. Writing the whole thing - not just thinking about it and planning it. And can you find the stamina, the courage, the com,mitment to do it again and again? Because if you were to be accepted then that's what would be wanted of you. You might as well start practising now. I've read - and critiqued - so many first 3 chapters or so over my time with writing courses and the RNA's New Writers' Scheme - and I haven't seen any of them come back to me as full books or even full manuscripts!




So finishing that book shows you can do it. Even if not yet to publishable standard. I know some people thinnk that they want to know if this book isn't going to work so they don't 'waste their time' finishing it. Because they could have been writing something new. But if you're always jumping on to that 'something new' you're too easily distracted by the next 'brilliant idea' and never completing the course.



Another point is that no synopsis is ever set in stone. Or it shouldn't be. If you write a book plan, a synopsis that outlines the plot and then you stick totally rigidly to it and never waver or change or adapt something then you are moving your characters around like cardboard cutout. You are telling them what to do instead of creating characters who come to life and start almost breathing down your ear as they tell you things about themselves. You might start out believing A B and C are going to happen only to find that really it's X Y and Z that matter. And it's only by writing the whole thing, by letting the story really develop, and letting your characters grow that you'll find out this.


Even a rejected synopsis - at the 3 chapters and a synopsis stage - isn't a dead synopsis. As you write the whole book and adapt the original synopsis as you go, you could end up with a whole new version of the story that works so much better and turns into a much more workable book. One an editor would be prepared to work on with you.



Finally remember the famous quote that is attributed to several people but mostly to Nora Roberts - the fact that you can always edit a bad page but you can't edit an empty page. The story, the characters, the plot, the writing, may all seem wonderful inside your head. It's only by putting them down on paper in reality that you can see how they will really manage in the cold hard world of publishing.




And as you asked for an answer for the question from my experience, I have to admit that I don't sell on synopsis - I always submit a full novel and see what my editor thinks. If there are any tricky moments in the story I want her to see it as a whole and see if it works out or not.


And if I was a beginner again and submitting those 3 chapters and a synopsis then I'd proably never send of my partial submission until I'd finished the whole book first. Or if I did ever send the 3 chapters off - knowing how long I might have to wait for a response - I'd have to fill in the waiting time by completing the book. Just to prove I could. And because I'd owe it to my characters to get them to their happy ever after ending.


(c) Kate Walker 2009

5 comments:

Shirley Wells said...

A great post, Kate. I always submit on a completed novel simply because I can't do a synopsis until the book is written. If the characters don't take me by surprise and change the whole course of the book as I'm writing it, I know it's not working.

Devon Ellington said...

That's a really great post. My books change a lot in the course of writing/revision, so my initial chapters change drastically.

Also, if you don't have a solid, published track record, very few editors/publishers will contract an unknown on the first three chapters and synopsis. They need to know not only that you can finish a novel, but that you can sustain the promise of the first three chapters and surpass it.

After you've hit the bestseller list a few times, you can probably sell on an outline and a few sample chapters before writing the book -- but not as an unknown.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kate (I'm the "Caroline" that sent in the question btw). You've answered it and then some! (Thanks to Shirley and Devon's posts as well). Great post and a lot of very useful information - thanks. And rest assurred that all the books I have written so far I have always finished the whole book to the best of my ability - and that's the key really - like you say - it may not be to a publishable standard - but all the while we (I)am/are learning the craft - thanks for pointing that out - sometime the big picture gets lost - the crows of doubt etc. I'm currently with the NWS and have just finished my latest book - editing it right now to send off to them(hopefully) around the end of April. Thanks Kate - Regards Caroline. ps. love your 12 point guide to writing Romance - which is a MUST for anyone who is serious about writing a romance!! Caroline

Donna Alward said...

Great post darling! :-) I think you know my perspective on this. I alway finished at least the first draft before subbing. Then I would polish up the first three and write the synopsis - now that I knew how things would play out. While I was waiting I'd revise and polish the rest of the book so it would be ready for when the request - or ultimate rejection - came.

One thing I learned is that those first three chapters are so improved after I've reached the end, because I can layer in the little touches that can take a book from good to great, and I can do it because I've learned so much more about the characters and story during the writing of the full.

And Shirley - amen. Writing a proposal synopsis is KILLER. It's writing what the story is about from the outside in rather than the inside out and it never seems to come out right. :-(

Julie Cohen said...

As always...spot on, Kate.

 

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