Monday, February 23, 2015

What I Learned from a Bad Movie Trailer

As many of you know, in January, I hosted a query party for several writers to come together and critique one another’s queries before we send them out. 

There were several moments of realization during the party.  I probably got through two queries when that lightbulb flashed through my mind. 

I was able to pare down another person’s query into something that made sense.  It wasn’t a long-winded, distracted bundle of words, it was short, succinct, and it made sense.  It focused on the main character, who he was, what he wanted, what the stakes were. 

That’s it.

I tried doing the same to my query, and suddenly it was 50 words longer.  Over the past two weeks, I started working on my 35 word pitch for Pitch Madness.  (If you haven’t heard of it, head over to Brenda Drake’s website!  She hosts some awesome competitions.)  I had a critiquer go through it, and she told me that my pitch was muddled, confusing and vague.  It made sense to me, but to someone who didn’t know the story, apparently it wasn’t clear.

I had another AHA! moment last week.  I’m not sure how, but I came across this trailer for a movie that came out last month.  It’s called Strange Magic.

I think I’ve watched it seven or eight times already.  Even so… I’m still not sure what it’s talking about.  There’s so many characters introduced that I can’t keep track of them.  I think I know who the main character is, but she’s only in there probably about a fourth of the time.  I get that a sister is kidnapped, but I’m not sure why, or what the main character (or who I think is the main character) has to do with the bad guy’s ultimatum.  Why her?  Also, who are all those other people?  

I’ve seen movie trailers where they give the whole story.  But this one, it makes me wonder if there is a story, somewhere beneath all of the odd characters and obvious attempts at jokes.

It also makes me wonder if that’s what my query looks like.  I went back to my pitch, and stated who my main character was, what he wanted, and what the conflict was.  That’s it.  35 words, and it makes sense.  It’s clear, and it sets up exactly what the reader should expect in the story.  No fluff, no other characters, or subplots.

Now it’s time to clean up the query.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Starting Again

I had a brief conversation with a friend this weekend about returning to work while writing.  She said that she hadn’t written in a long time and wasn’t quite sure how to start again.
“How do you start writing again when you’ve been away for years?  Makes me nervous.”
I know that feeling. 
When I was younger, I wrote a lot.  Not very well, but I never stopped.  When I got to high school, I finally finished a novel, which I considered one of my greatest accomplishments.  But then I graduated, and I figured that I needed to grow up, which meant that I wouldn’t ‘waste’ my time writing.
For two and a half years, I didn’t write.  I didn’t think about writing, I didn’t miss my characters.  Then I went through some difficult times and had a hard time coping.  When I went to my parents’ house for Christmas, my mom made me clean out my old closet, and one of the items inside was my ‘Writing Bible’ for my novel.  I packed it in a bag and took it home with me.
Just seeing my ‘Writing Bible’ made me curious.  It had been a really long time since I’d written anything.  I wanted to start again, but I didn’t know how.  I thought I’d finished that previous novel, and there wasn’t another story in my head.  For fun, one night while I was on quarantine for the H1N1 Flu, I pulled open my computer and started reading my old manuscript.
It was terrible.
I’d changed in the past years, and reading what I’d written as a seventeen year old made me cringe.  I’d done a ‘revision’ but it was only editing.  The writing was immature and the story simplistic to a fault. 
But here’s the thing: reading it made me want to write again.  I wanted to fix all those small problems.  I decided to do a rewrite of the novel.  To challenge myself, I took the entire novel, in first person, and changed it to third.  I started on the first chapter and it took me days just to finish the first few pages.
I’ve learned that writing is muscle memory.  If you start, you train your brain to do it automatically.  If you do it daily, then it becomes a habit.  It took a long six months before I finished my rewrite.  It went from about 62,000 words to a whopping 80,000.  I reworked major parts of the story, creating a better plot and discovering more of my voice.
I found that jumping back in, especially after a long hiatus, it works well to go back to what I’ve already written and rewrite until my imagination gets used to it again.  It’s like training before the marathon, or a dress rehearsal before the real thing.