Last year I did a blog post about contests and about composing pitches or ‘loglines’. In that discussion I summarized what I’d learned from my research about loglines, and illustrated how they may be of different lengths and levels of development, depending on what’s required. Now I’m digging a little deeper to explore how to write more effective loglines and also how to use them as a tool for looking objectively at a novel — which, among other things, can make it far easier to tackle writing a query letter and a synopsis.
While revisiting the subject of loglines due to the upcoming Baker’s Dozen auction at Miss Snark’s First Victim, I’ve learned some new things that I feel have given me a greater insight into what makes a compelling logline that will grab a reader’s attention. This is mostly thanks to Holly Bodger, aka ‘The Logline Guru’. In the past few years Holly has imparted her wisdom about loglines at MSFV, both generously offering her comments on all the logline critique rounds and sharing her thoughts in a number of posts about the problems she sees in the participants’ entries.
In her basic guidelines for composing a logline, Holly gives this formula: “When [MAIN CHARACTER] [INCITING INCIDENT], he [CONFLICT]. And if he doesn’t [GOAL] he will [CONSEQUENCES].” While this exact order may not be what works best for every story, Holly also stresses that “loglines are stronger when they come in the order that has the greatest effect“. In any case, the capitalized components all need to be included. And in critiquing loglines it sometimes seems that the best advice is to suggest that the writer go back to the drawing board and use that formula to figure out exactly what those components are in their own book. Continue reading
Recently I learned of a contest called Write Club. Unlike most other online writing contests that I’ve seen, this one is mostly just for fun, rather than designed to help connect authors with agents or editors. Apparently it’s been going on for at least several years, and has even been copied by others who’ve created similar contests.
The inspiration for the contest is Fight Club, so the rules are modeled on the Fight Club rules, which is rather cute. It even includes Rule Six: No shirt, no shoes. That’s a joke, of course (no one expects the authors to refrain from wearing a shirt or shoes while writing)! Though in my case, if that were an actual rule I’d already be partly in compliance; since I can’t stand wearing shoes in the house, I almost always write without shoes. 😉
I confess that although I’m definitely a Brad Pitt fan, I’m not really a big fan of that film. I saw it just once and while I didn’t dislike it, it’s not something I’d be interested in watching again. I suppose most people would say that the quintessential masculine version of a ‘chick flick’ is something like the Die Hard films, filled with intense action and things blowing up from the first moment to the last. But I might say that Fight Club is a more intellectual form of a ‘guy movie’; it certainly has a lot more depth, but I would guess it still tends to have more appeal for men than women. Continue reading
I remember my oldest brother laughing about how he’d heard that there was an actual formula for Harlequin Romances, and each significant story element was supposed to happen on a specific page. So the moment when the heroine first meets the hero, when they first kiss, when they have their first misunderstanding, when they reconcile, etc., all had to happen on designated page numbers. That was many years ago, and I don’t know where he came across that information or how accurate it was. But even when the formulas involved are nowhere near that detailed, it seems that today there are many restrictive conventions and expectations when it comes to the structure of a work of fiction.
Some are blatant, like the idea that prologues and epilogues are strictly verboten, while others are not really talked about or even consciously recognized. When I discovered Miyazaki’s films (which I talked about here) I had an epiphany about ‘unconscious conventions’, because it made me realize how much American-made films fit into formulaic guidelines. Why is it that foreign films usually have a different ‘feel’ that brands them as foreign more than the language difference? It’s because they don’t follow the same conventions when it comes to everything from the perspective and the pacing to the inclusion of certain standardized elements. So it can be something of an eye-opener when you realize how many other things can be done with film that American filmmakers simply never do.
For instance, we have an unwritten convention that animation is for children’s stories and comic adventures. With the possible exception of an occasional film that would be considered avant garde or ‘artsy’, no one here would do a contemporary drama in animation. That rule certainly isn’t present in Japanese film-making; Wishes of the Heart is one example, and I’ve also seen another animated film put out by Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli that’s a realistic contemporary romance (it’s essentially an ordinary ‘chick flick’). And I’ve realized that even when people rave about an American movie and say how much it surprised them and was ‘different’, when you really take a good hard look at such a film, you’ll see that it still follows most of Hollywood’s unwritten rules. Continue reading
It’s occurred to me that my current WIP, The Heart of Elebfar, might be labeled as ‘science fantasy’. Since the entire story takes place on one exotic world, it technically also fits the definition of a ‘planetary romance’ — although it’s certainly not ‘space opera’! But ‘science fantasy’, like many subgenre classifications, can be a bit nebulous, as it essentially just means something that combines elements of both science fiction and fantasy.
Some say science fantasy is fantasy ‘dressed up’ as science fiction, while others say it’s science fiction that includes fantastic elements that are not explained via science. But I think that brings up the question of how much of the science in science fiction is truly explained. It seems that, even in a lot of hard SF, the essence of it is about speculating that a certain premise might be scientifically plausible — either in the future or on another world — more than it is about trying to explain just how it might be plausible.
And if we’re talking about social science fiction, it’s accepted that future technologies or alternate biological conditions may be an essential part of the foundation of the story, but no one expects the author to spend time exploring how those things might actually come about. What’s important is how they would affect human society and the lives of individual humans in that society (as discussed in my previous post about the definition of SF). Continue reading
I’ve recently discovered a number of fun contests designed to give authors a different way to get their pitch — and hopefully their manuscript itself — seen by agents. (One good source for learning about upcoming contests is the Sub It Club.) The gals who run these contests certainly deserve kudos for all the hard work they put in, and it’s nice to see that it looks like they usually have a lot of fun doing it, too.
It’s something I’d like to consider doing myself down the road — though I’ll probably want to enlist the help of someone more computer and web savvy to help with the logistics. And speaking of logistics, I’ve learned a lot about loglines in the past few weeks, thanks to all the great information at Miss Snark’s First Victim, a delightful site with lots of resources for writers, as well as great contests, including the monthly ‘Secret Agent’ contest. (And there’s quite a few success stories posted on the site, showing that the process really does work to connect writers and agents.)
One of the challenging things about writing loglines — which are required for entry in many of these contests — is that there are so many different definitions floating around as to just what a logline is and how long it should be. My conclusion is that the answer depends on who’s asking for the logline, and what they’re looking for. Some people want a logline that’s no more than 25 words, while the logline critiques at Miss Snarks’s First Victim permit up to 100 words (although they stress that shorter is better). And the Halloween-themed Trick or Treat with an Agent Contest going on this week asks writers for a three-sentence pitch, with no word count restriction. Continue reading
There’s been a lot of discussion this week about Paul Cook’s post at Amazing Stories, in which he pontificates on why a lot of science fiction actually isn’t science fiction. I just read a great post summarizing much of this discussion on Cora Buhlert’s blog. While I agree, as most do, that Mr. Cook has every right to his own opinion, I also agree that the manner in which he expressed it was offensive.
Whether or not it was unintentional, the article does come across as sexist, and as a big Gene Wolfe fan, Paul Cook’s disparaging attitude toward Wolfe’s work certainly didn’t impress me either. (He also made the error of claiming that Wolfe’s brilliant tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun, shows the influence of Orson Scott Card, when Card’s work actually came after New Sun.)
One line in Cora Buhlert’s blog post about the reactions to Paul Cook’s discourse particularly struck a chord with me. While discussing the prejudice against human relationships — both emotional and physical — and the apparent distaste for the human body itself in much hard SF, she remarks about the “dearth of sex, childbirth and descriptions of food” in science fiction. This made me think of several things I find significant. Continue reading
I recently read an old post in a writers’ forum where someone used the term ‘verisimilitude’. As I was only mostly sure that I knew what it meant, I looked it up in my trusty dictionary. (I love checking definitions anyway, and do it quite often; I imagine that most people who are passionate about words find dictionary reading rewarding — and sometimes just plain fun.)
Verisimilitude: 1. The quality of appearing to be true or real. 2. Something that has the appearance of being true and real.
When I read this, it struck me that this should be a highly significant word in my vocabulary, because verisimilitude is a huge part of what I’ve always wanted to achieve with my own writing — even when I started that first novel when I was eleven years old. Continue reading
This continues some of the concepts I was exploring in “Learning the Art of Revision” — specifically, it addresses how those ideas are reflected in the Studio Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart. (And since I said that post was a ‘Part 2’ itself, I suppose this one should actually be ‘Part 3’ . . .) 😉
A few years ago my brother introduced me to the wonderful films of Hayao Miyazaki, and one that I fell in love with is called Whisper of the Heart. This is one of those films that falls into a category we just don’t have in American film — a realistic drama that’s animated. Though there are a couple of fantasy dream sequences, the story takes place in ‘the real world’, and the relationships between the family members and the interactions between the junior high school kids are all quite natural and believable.
It’s a story about a fourteen-year-old girl who wants to be a writer, and the first time I saw it I think I cried through most of it. It’s not a sad story — it’s just that I related so strongly to Shizuku that it made watching the film a very emotional experience. The way she spends hours writing when she’s supposed to be studying reminded me of my habit of taking two folders to every class — one for the class itself, and the other containing the story I was currently working on. (I did this from junior high all the way through college.) At every opportunity, I would write a line or two before attempting to return my attention to the subject of the course. There’s a scene in the film where Shizuku is doing exactly the same thing, and she can’t answer the teacher’s question because she wasn’t paying attention; she was working on her book instead. Continue reading
Note: This makes references to the previous post about ‘The Muse and the Editor’, and is essentially ‘Part 2’ of that discussion.
It’s sometimes said that half of the art of writing is the art of revision. When it comes to the quality and originality of what your muse brings to you, I think there may be a certain amount of ‘talent’ that you either have or don’t have. But developing a good editor is primarily a matter of hard work and acquiring the necessary skills. You can learn to revise–and to be an accomplished wordsmith, you must learn to revise.
There are plenty of myths and pieces of misinformation floating around about the craft of writing. One over-quoted phrase is “Kill your darlings”, which is attributed to William Faulkner–though he may have borrowed it from another source–and which has been echoed emphatically by Steven King. It’s one of those things some writers bandy about as if they feel that saying it shows how mature and sophisticated they are. But in reality it has limited application and is too often misinterpreted. What I dislike most about it is that it implies that writers can’t learn to appraise their own work (although that may not have been the original intent at all). If that were true, they could never learn to edit their own work, which, of course, is nonsense. Continue reading
This summer I came across a couple of writer’s blogs addressing the topic of writing slowly. Both emphasized that writers who can’t turn out a high volume of words in a short time shouldn’t feel inferior to those who can. In particular, they pointed out that some of the great masters have been slow writers — one often mentioned is James Joyce, who is said to have taken eight years to write Ulysses.
Assuming, of course, that the writer in question is actually sitting down and getting something done, the most significant factor in determining writing speed seems to be whether the author is polishing each page as they go — we’ll call this the ‘slow method’ — or focusing on getting a rough draft down, and then coming back and revising — the ‘fast method’. Although I’m going to explain here why the ‘fast method’ works better for me than the ‘slow method’ — and also why I think it helps to prevent writer’s block — I strongly agree that the creative process is very personal, and each writer must find their own path in that process. The end result is what matters, not how long it takes to get there.
Looking at my own progression as a writer, I find it noteworthy that my modus operandi has changed. As a kid I wrote mostly by hand, and only occasionally used a typewriter. The entire first draft of my first novel was written by hand (and in pencil!), a thought that makes me shudder now. I also have short stories written in college that only exist in one hand-written draft. Yet some of those stories have passages in them that I wouldn’t change even now. Continue reading