All Quotes tagged Writing Tips(54)

Another painful writing truth = You can follow every bit of advice, do everything you're supposed to do, and still not succeed the 1st time. Writing = art. It's not about ticking all the boxes. Your story must, above all, compel. If it doesn't, you've got to figure out why.

There's this thing we call LIFT -- this unteachable, unforceable element of a book that makes it fill your heart with excitement. It makes a series sticky, makes a character someone you care about like they're real. It's a tough code to crack. Agents can see it. You need it.

The slush pile = your reaction to the test is part of the test. If you get 5 query rejections and want to quit, this might not be the job for you. You've got to find your reason to push through the self-doubt and fear. How much are you willing to fail?

But I can tell you with 100% accuracy when your book ISN'T ready and when you SHOULDN'T query, and that is December 1, after you've won NaNoWriMo. Do yourself a favor and edit that book properly. Do your work before attempting to query. Agents remember garbage queries.

Oh, and a tip for querying and live pitching at conferences: 95% of the time, saying, "This book is like nothing ever written before!" doesn't signal that you're the next JK Rowling. It says you haven't read widely in your genre or have disdain for it. Pick a different hook.

And when I think back to editing my first 2 books, the pre-agent books, I remember how hard I was on myself. I was learning a new skill set. I wasn't born knowing how to edit a book. It took a few messes and some guidance. No one expects you to get it right the 1st time.

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Francesca Mandac

November 22, 2017

So when it comes to how you know if your book is any good, I'd say that if you can hire an experienced pro to tell you, you'll *actually* know. If you're going it alone, querying will tell you. I didn't know if I was technically ready to query, but I was doing it anyway.

I suggest sending out 5 queries to a variety of agents on your list. If you get nothing but form rejections, read more QueryShark and rewrite your query. If you're getting requests, keep querying and wait for responses. But what do those responses mean?

Decoding query responses:
1. Not a good fit= generally a form rejection
2. Agent offers compliment/any personal advice = getting close!
3. Agent suggests specific changes and says they'd look at it again = so close!
4. Agent wants to have a call to talk about it = SCORE

Still not sure if your book is good/if your edits are helping? Ask yourself:
* What does the protagonist want?
* What is the main conflict stopping them?
* What subplots complicate it?
* What is the character arc?
* Does the end satisfy the beginning?

Now, consider:
* Can you write a hook or blurb for your book?
* Are there any parts you consider boring?
* Would you tell someone it gets better in chapter 3/whatever?
* Are there weak spots you hope an agent won't notice?
* Are you proud of it?

Still not sure if your book is any good? Go ahead and write a 1-page synopsis, which many agents want as part of your query. Is there a definite plot-- this happens, which causes this, and then this? Or are most of the verbs passive-- she learned, he discovered? Plot= vital.

Check your first chapter. Is it a character experiencing a normal day in which nothing happens, walking around a room thinking about something, or describing themselves in a mirror? Those are all red flags. Consider the instigating factor and rewind one scene. Start there.

IME as a writer and teacher, many 1st chapters are the writer thinking out loud and waiting for something to happen. If that's in your first draft, cut it and decide where the book really starts: in a moment that shows character and worldbuilding while kicking off the plot.

One issue I see in books at the querying stage = the writer is ramrodding the plot when the main character should be driving it. Your protagonist should be motivated to do something, and their agency is what makes things happen. The world and antagonist should impede them.

Francesca Mandac profile image

Francesca Mandac

November 22, 2017

We had a question this morning: How do you come up with names for characters and places in Science Fiction and Fantasy? Easy. STEAL 'EM.

Kidding. You can't have Mr. Spuck go to Chogwarts. But you can take inspiration. Start by considering names that stuck with you. Why?

Luke Skywalker = Timeless Biblical name + portmanteau of something space-y. There's a rhythm, a grandness to it. Sounds like destiny.

Han Solo = Short, sweet, like a punch. Solo = alone-- he's a rugged loner. Han = close enough to familiar words to sound like a name.

They key here is that things are close enough to words/names we know to seem reasonable and be memorable. Your mouth can make the sounds.

Start with a base and get creative. I used Old Norse in Phasma. Some Fantasy uses Latin or Old English. What's the flavor of your world?

I've heard Pat Rothfuss talk about names and mouthfeel. Skyzzyx souds evil and spiderlike, while Alverdale sounds grand, elven.

So you can pick a base, a sound, a vowel you like and riff on it when you're alone. Say it out loud. How does it feel when you say it?

"Evil" sounds: s, k, v, ee, anything with 'mort' in it Grand things often have more syllables, long vowels Rough things are short, abrupt

Other great sources for names to steal/riff on: Old tombstones, old phonebooks, old maps, Behind the Name, the SSA census list online.

Caveat: If you're blatantly borrowing from a different culture than your own, be super careful and do your research.

The key is saying the name. Tasting it. Cadence is important. Your reader's going to see that name 600+ times. It should be tasty.

1-1: Dirk Pitt 1-2: Han Solo 1-3: Luke Skywalker 2-2: Sookie Stackhouse 3-1: Criminy Stain 4-2: Hermione Granger. It should feel right.


Especially unusual but still approachable names *really* grab us. 7 of 9? Jayne? Eleven? Blade? Character must live up to that promise.

Time for my personal pet peeve: Introducing a protagonist as Katherine "Kat" Smith. No one does that in real life. She's just Kat.

Naming is super fun, but don't let it slow you down. You could daydream a perfect name... or write 2000 words. Guess which one matters?

I'll often just slap Tom or Mary name in while first drafting, and at the end, I know the right name. I do a Find & Replace. Boom. Done.

Trust your instincts with names. If one pops into your head, don't spend 3 days mulling it. Just start writing. Perfect doesn't exist.

Planet names are funny, though. 'Earth' sounds like a dying groan. Consider: Was the planet named by outsiders or natives? Why?

The main thing about names is that you don't let them slow you down. The character makes people love the name, not the other way around.

As a new writer, I thought a name could make or break a protagonist/story. Nope. It's just another aspect of worldbuilding.

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Francesca Mandac

November 22, 2017

1. Here's the question: How do you get more comfortable with descriptive writing? And I'll add: Without verging into purple prose or an info dump. This ties in with worldbuilding, which is one of my favorite things.

2. So. Worldbuilding starts on page 1. The words you use, the things you point out, the rhythm of your words: They all harmonize to paint the background setting for your story. The book/genre should suggest the appropriate tone and voice. What does that mean?

3. Epic Fantasy: The chaka trees creaked in the gale-force winds, driving the black dragons into the crystalline caves where they growled warnings to their eggs. Urban Fantasy: Oily rain pattered the cracked asphalt and reflected the flickering neon of the late night pizza dive.

4. Each thing you choose to point out should be unique to your world and story. Each adjective is carefully chosen for voice and genre. These details don't always happen in the first draft. In the first draft, just get it on the page. Make it beautiful and specific later.

5. Mind you, the descriptive language we see on the page will depend on the POV you've chosen. You can get away with a lot more if it's in first person and voicey. But then, of course, you've got to watch out for pages of "I'm the kind of guy who" and "let me describe my life."

6. There is no formula for "the right amount" of descriptive language. It works or it doesn't. If you reread it and start skipping lines to get to character/dialogue, you need to cut stuff. If you read it and have trouble picturing the scene, you need to add stuff. Find balance.

7. Writing descriptively is a skill. Time on task. Consider all the senses, not just visual. What sounds, smells are there? What's the temperature? Can your character taste the petrichor or market spices? How does all this sensory input make them feel? Oppressed? Comforted?

8. One thing that helped me with descriptive language was joining a writing group where we did timed exercises. Had to quickly settle on a scene and get it on the page. I learned to give flavor immediately, using cultural shorthand and expressive vocabulary in small vignettes.

9. Another thing that helped was my use of playlists for story development, which you can read about here: http://www.whimsydark.com/blog/2016/5/17/how-and-why-to-make-a-book-playlist … The playlist keeps the flavor of the book on my tongue. It makes me see things, imagine a more lush background.

10. When writing 1st person description, consider what this person would notice that others wouldn't. How does their unique background and situation impact what would draw their attention? How would they describe something in a way no one else could? Which senses would dominate?

11. Descriptive language is all about flavor. Condense it down to syrup. For me: Wicked as They Come = sweet red wine, green vines, mist Servants of the Storm = oppressive ozone, rusty metal, swamp Wake of Vultures = dry desert, orange buttes, dun horses

12. When you're using descriptive language, you're not describing exactly what is seen. You're using a unique combination of visuals, adjectives, other senses, and character input to create a mood. No one cares how many chairs there are; we want to feel the splintered wood.

Francesca Mandac profile image

Francesca Mandac

November 22, 2017