Pet Peeves! Part 1

I adore metaphors. They are the wind beneath my wings. I love descriptive writing. The sparkling dialogue reverberates through the whole history of my being like a breeze through the Redwood forest.

Know what I don’t like? Eyeballs. Specifically ones that fall on things.

You know what I mean. “My eyes fell on the hot guy in the corner.”

Eyeballs are always getting up to mischief, and it’s time we stopped them!

“His eyes slid down my dress.”

“Her eyes followed me as I backed out of the room.”

“Sharon’s eyes landed on the fruitcake behind the centerpiece.”

“Marta’s eyes glided around the dance floor.”

ETA: “Her eyes flit around until finally resting on what she was looking for.”

“Juan’s eyes lingered on Patrick’s new cleats.”

There are so many different and arguably better ways to say these things that don’t involve squishy spheres leading independent lives. Let’s try those ways and then decide which sounds better. K?

Share your favorite abuses of this one in the comments.


Beginnings Part 1

You know what’s the worst? When I read a query and it sounds AWESOME and then this happens:

“Once there was a boy named Pauline who did an extraordinary thing that you can’t wait to read about, and before I can tell you anything about that, I must explain the entire history of his life from the day he was born, plus the whole rest of his town and family. You see, there was this house. It was a gigantic Gothic thing, built by Dr. Gormless von Bandcamp, Pauline’s mother’s father’s father…” And then approximately five more pages of this before anything resembling the real story starts.

I feel like I’ve been duped. I’ve been offered a story about a kid doing something extraordinary, and what I’m getting is backstory. Which is like getting backwash when someone offers you a sip of cool, refreshing lemonade. And you know what happens if I can’t skim the bliz blaz to quickly find the real story? I stop reading.

You know how They say to start in the action? Yes, do that. It’s a very good idea. Ungrounded, random narration with nary a character to connect to is as disorienting as opening a door into zero-g. I wonder why it’s happening, and when there will be something to grab onto so I can stay upright.

Starting in the action doesn’t mean opening with your character running to catch a speeding train, but I will dedicate another post to that. I mean that a scene should open on a character doing something; delivering cookies to a homeless person via unicycle; changing the toilet paper roll, it doesn’t entirely matter. Readers are pretty smart, they’ll catch on. And when they do, you can layer in the backstory as you go along, revealing exciting things at moments that maximize the information.

Beginning at the beginning doesn’t mean the beginning of time, or of someone’s life, or even (especially?) when they wake up in the morning. It might take some thinking to figure out what the real beginning of your story is. But you’re a writer, and good portion of writing is thinking, yeah? Look for that thing that sets off a chain of events and start slightly before that. It’s the difference between a tome and a page-turner.

Don’t be dense.



Niche Job

There are lots of different kinds of publishing. Trade is the one most think of when they decide to write and publish a book. Who doesn’t want to see their book on an endcap at Barnes and Noble? Who doesn’t want to do a reading and sign copies at their local indie?

But sometimes, the books people write and submit to agents and editors are definitely not trade books. Very often, they are educational. For example, I have lost count of queries that hit my inbox beginning with “Childhood obesity is a national epidemic.” While this may be true, it does not make a trade picture book. Other examples of books that will not likely find a trade home: Explaining cancer, diabetes, or other diseases/medical conditions. Explaining adoption, alcoholism, incarceration, abuse. Basically if your main character is a doctor or social worker or adult of any kind who is explaining something, you’re writing a niche-market book.

Recently, an incredibly smart single mom I admire very much asked if I knew of any books explaining the process of artificial insemination. I said no, trying not to cringe. She said, “I guess I have to write it, then.” We don’t know each other well enough yet for me to have told her all the reasons I think that book doesn’t exist. And if she writes it, well, that’s a bridge I’ll cross later.

I’m not discouraging books on these topics. They can be very helpful to have when kids start asking questions about heavy life-stuff. They are great educational tools. But they are unlikely to be the ones pulled off the shelf for multiple reads night after night. Of course there are exceptions, but as the saying goes, they prove the rule.

There are, of course, ways to approach these subjects that are more widely accessible, one being to write a character who is dealing with said issue, without making the story about that issue. For example, I have a friend who, as a kid, found out he had diabetes and had to start taking insulin shots. But he was also a smarter-than-you Thrasher-reading skater/alter boy whose holy grail was a vinyl Space Oddity single. A story about a kid who has to take insulin shots is very niche. A story about a well-rounded character who just happens to inject himself daily as part of a larger story is going to have a wider appeal.

Niche-market books take niche-market publishers to make them successful. Do your research before submitting. Find agents and editors who know that market well, and understand that many do not.