June 29, 2010

Whatchamacallit

A couple of interesting posts about titles this month (links below) reminded me how important it is to choose the right title for your book, something I learned the hard way.

Although my query indicated the plot involved a quest, I called my book "The Mermaid's Daughter", not realizing it would lead agents to think the story was about mermaids and nothing else. In fact, one agent rejected me in four minutes: "Sorry, I already have a mermaid book. Best of luck!"

Aargh!

So what do I call my new and improved version?  Apparently titles that follow the format "The Somebody's Something" are less well-received than others. Sure, there are dozens of examples that contradict this, such as "The Time Traveler's Wife", but as a debut fiction author, I want my work to stand out from the crowd.

For now, the working title is "Zakret", the tree of power my main character seeks. I think it adds a bit of mystique that goes well with the story's adventure.

How about you? How do you decide on your book's title? Ever started with one and changed it?


Dystel & Goderich Literary Management's post: http://dglm.blogspot.com/2010/06/what-to-title-your-book.html
Pimp My Novel's post: http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/2010/06/rose-by-any-other-name.html

June 22, 2010

Synchronicity

Carl Jung described synchronicity as “meaningful coincidence”. Two events occur and you may not see the connection until later. I'm pretty sure that happened to me this past week.

While reading Vogler’s book on mythic structure (see previous post), I kept thinking about my first story, the one shelved after querying about a dozen agents. Too few, you say? Perhaps, but upon close inspection it was clear the writing needed work, lots of work.

Even so, I always believed the tale itself had a solid foundation: a girl on a quest to retrieve an ancient power stolen from the sea.

Quest? Did someone say “quest”? What every hero undertakes?

Fingers crossed, I made a list of Vogler's 12 stages of the Hero's Journey to see if they matched elements from my book.

Eccola!

Not only does my story cover every stage, but there's also a healthy batch of archetypes (a term also coined by Jung). All I need to do is find the proper words to captivate my readers. Easy, right? ;-)

I didn’t know that buying this book would bring me back to a story waiting to be rewritten, but that's what happened. Synchronicity in action!

How about you? Ever realize that two things you thought unconnected were actually linked?

June 15, 2010

Mythic Structure – A Tool for all Writers

Don’t let the title fool you. Mythic structure works for all genres, not just fantasy.

My crit partner recommended this book, which I bought and then set aside, thinking it applied solely to “quest” stories. Was I ever wrong!

I've read Joseph Campbell and know about the Hero's Journey, but Vogler's approach is geared exclusively toward writers. He explores each of the Journey's stages and gives examples from memorable books and movies in a surprising range of genres. It’s truly a format anyone can adopt.

Vogler’s scope can't be addressed in one blog post, but I think you’d be surprised at how easily stories fit this structure. Does your main character have a goal that involves stepping outside a comfort zone, challenging norms, righting wrongs? Bingo! There’s your Call to Adventure.

Having trouble figuring out a character's purpose? Check out the Archetypes and you'll find a wealth of choices, each with its own psychological and dramatic function. How cool is that?

This is a hefty volume (nearly 400 pages) and I’m only a quarter of the way through, but already I’m approaching my work with a new perspective.

I think you will, too.

June 8, 2010

Talismans, anyone?

Webster’s defines talisman as “an object held to act as a charm to avert evil or bring good fortune”.

I grew up with talismans, mostly religious, rosary beads and such. Now that I write fantasy, I have a few around my computer. They serve as potent reminders that supernatural elements are integral to my stories. And if they bring me luck, well, I won’t say no. ;-)

The first two are rattles, good for shaking when my mind is stuck. One comes from Yosemite, brown and round and open-mouthed, ready to whisper words of encouragement. Another was forged from a Gerber baby spoon. How clever is that? Helps me focus on my young audience.

The other three are power stones I bought in Maui. The dragon, my Chinese astrological sign as well, symbolizes wisdom and nobility. The hummingbird stands for joy, miracles, and beauty. The seahorse brings confidence and grace. All qualities I’d like my work to reflect.

How about you? Got any lucky charms?

June 1, 2010

It’s the Writing, My Dears

Literary agent Mary Kole at kidlit.com (link below) recently wrote about the perception that agents aren’t interested in manuscripts from writers who’ve never been published.

I didn’t know such a myth existed, especially one so clearly at odds with reality. Sure, some agents only take referrals, but if you read agent blogs you know they’re always looking for a good story.

Then again, it’s easier to claim agents are biased than to take a hard look at your writing. Because that’s what agents are looking for: great writing. And sometimes we send them a story that isn’t our best.

I’ve done it, though it pains me to say so. Queried with my very first piece of fiction, certain representation was a phone call away. I actually believed that as long as agents and editors were going to ask for revisions no matter what, it was okay to send them work that, while not perfect, was good enough.

*knocks head against wall*

I got a couple of full requests, some positive feedback, but no takers, and finally realized a strong story doesn't trump weak writing. What I've learned since about the craft of fiction is humbling, and only increases my appreciation for the agents who read my earlier work and passed on their best regards.

Don't know how long it will take until I resume querying. One story's in first draft mode, one's in revisions. But I'm determined to never again submit a story before it's ready.