Guest Blogger: Jeanne Stein
The winner of Jeanne's book and magnets is: Ruth Schaller! Congrats, Ruth. Send me your snail mail info and I'll pass it along to Jeanne. Thanks so much to everyone for participating.
So, for all you aspiring writers, here’s my take on the subject.
First, we start with some rules.
I know, I know. I hate it when someone says there are “rules” to writing -- And of course, for every rule we set there will be an exception that works perfectly well. But the first rules I’m setting forth here apply to ALL writing. They are basic, maybe too obvious, but worth mentioning.
They are Robert Heinlein’s Five Rules:
Heinlein (1907-1988) was one of the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction. He was also one of the first to break into mainstream markets and is often called the “dean of science fiction writers.” He freely gave away his five rules because he said almost no one would follow them -- hence he was not afraid of competition. What are they?
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.
3. Your must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
4. You must put your story on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market until it has sold.
Did I mention they were obvious?
Let’s start with rule one. How many people do you know that have either started a novel or said that they plan to write one “someday?” They are not writers. A writer puts his butt in the chair everyday -- even if it’s fifteen minutes at lunchtime, during the baby’s nap or an hour before bedtime. If you are serious about writing, you will make time.
Rule two -- another no-brainer. Yet, there are countless unfinished manuscripts floating around waiting for the magic moment when their authors find time to finish them. Refer to Rule one.
Rule three -- This does not mean NEVER rewrite. It means don’t keep REwriting Chapter One because you want to make it perfect. If you have a critique group, let them offer suggestions as you go along, but forge ahead. Don’t get hung up on one sentence or page or chapter. When the manuscript is finished and you get an editor or agent, they will tell you what more needs to be done.
Rule four -- May be the hardest rule of all. It’s scary to launch your baby on the world, but you have to. Research markets, research agents and editors, network at conventions. Get it out there.
Rule five -- I take it back. This may be the hardest rule. If you’re lucky, you’ll strike gold right out of the box. If not, take whatever comfort you can from knowing that authors from J. K. Rowling to Stephen King have faced rejection. Many rejections. It’s different when it happens to you. It’s personal and it hurts, especially if it comes in a form letter. On the other hand, sometimes you receive a real letter offering advice and extending an offer to reread the manuscript after you make whatever rewrites are suggested. This is a very GOOD rejection letter. It means you’re on the right track.
Okay, those are Heinlein’s rules. Here are some of my own:
1. You want to write UF -- read it. To grab an audience, you need to know what it wants.
2. Now that you know what it wants, write for that audience.
3. Learn about conflict -- creating it, resolving it.
4. Structure your story for maximum impact.
5. Beginnings and endings are most important -- learn to make them so good, your readers will not be able to put the book down once they start and disappointed when they get to the end because they want more.
As for rules one and two, I know the popular conception is that since it often takes two years for a book to go from acceptance by a publisher to release, if you write what’s hot in the market NOW, by the time your book is released, the wave has passed. Perhaps. On the other hand, if you write the book you WANT to write, if it’s well written and compelling, it doesn’t matter what’s “hot” in the market. Well-written stories sell.
Rules three and four -- Dwight Swain in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer showed us how to create conflict: with the scene. He told us what each scene should contain: goal, conflict, disaster. What does this mean? The easiest way to explain it is to show it. Our protag for this simple example is a vampire. She is after a potion that is believed to hold the secret to regaining her mortality, something she desperately wants. She knows where it is (goal). She gets there. The potion is guarded by a supernatural determined to keep it from her (conflict). They fight. She wins. When she opens the bottle, it’s empty (disaster.)
Every chapter in your book should be constructed in such a way that the reader has to keep turning the pages -- has to find out what happens next. If you do that, your story has maximum impact.
Beginnings -- I can’t emphasize how important the opening paragraph of your book must be. In fact, if you’re submitting a manuscript, let me pass on what I’ve heard from EVERY editor and agent -- if the first paragraph doesn’t grab their attention, they will read no further.
The first paragraph.
How do you make that paragraph an attention grabber? Drop your protagonist in the middle of the action. If she’s human, she’s being chased by demon bad guys. If she’s paranormal, demon bad guys are chasing her.
I know I’ve covered a lot in a very abbreviated way. But honestly, writing is not complicated. It’s not mysterious. It’s not impossible. The road to publication takes dedication, perseverance, hard work. But the rewards are well worth the effort.
So: here’s my question for a copy of Legacy and a set of book cover magnets: What is the main feature of Urban Fantasy that distinguishes it from paranormal/romance? Remember when I said if you want to write it, you have to read it? Here’s your chance to prove you’re doing your homework!