Surrey Writer’s Con (to pee or not to pee)

Joe’s Post #64

How do you tell you’re at a great workshop? Well, let me tell you. When you are willing to cripple your prostate to stay.

That’s what the “Idol’ workshop was like. Jack Whyte, looking thin and frail but still belting out the written words in that beautiful baritone timbre of his, the agents listening and judging (quite gently I might add), and me soaking up every little bit of information.

You see, it was like being in their head for a moment. Forget what you read in books or on the internet or scribbled on the bathroom walls, agents are people, they read a different way than we do and while they long to find that next amazing manuscript, they will look for a way to put it down.

So let me give you some of the things I learned.

Beautiful writing doesn’t count for much. There has to be more. And this leads to one of the main themes. That first page, it needs to do more than one thing. There can’t just be observations (hello, Joe, that’s on you) or dialogue or clever descriptions or even just action. They needed that first page to have pacing and introduce the character and start the story and define location and something has to happen and movement and …

Ok, you don’t have to do EVERYTHING on the first page but there has to be more than one thing. The pages they loved wove in movement and action and dialogue while introducing the main character AND location.

Something I need to look at.

They all hated any story that started with someone waking up.

They all loved a story with VOICE.

They always wanted a reason to care.

They never want to see backstory in the first page, unless it’s in and out fast, like more of a hint of the backstory, but the moment you stop to tell us history, bam, they’d put it down.

Something has to happen. An odd thing to have to write but I know it’s easy to have characters thinking or describing or the author is setting the scene or whatever. Ask yourself. What is happening on page 1? Are they waiting? (Mine are!  Do I have enough tension? Movement? Action? Dialogue?).

But as I sat there, holding my bladder, wishing I was 6 again and could just grab my wienie and pinch it, I realized that if that next page wasn’t awesome, I wanted it gone! I didn’t want to waste a burst bladder on someone writing about what a grain silo looks like.

This went back to something I learned in the Oregon Writing Workshops. We had overnight to create an anthology. 80,000 words. It was 11 pm when we were allowed to start and we had to have it ready by 8 am. It meant we had to chose about 20-25 stories.

Being writers, we read the first story all the way through. And a lot of us, the second. It was midnight, now, and we had a stack, I kid you not, as high as Tyrion Lanister. Hundreds of stories. HUNDREDS! How the hell were we going to choose 20-25 stories? Do the math.
At 30 minutes a story, we could read 18 stories.

So we started to look at the first sentence, that first paragraph and if it was good enough, we put that story aside. Nothing personal. No mean intentions, but it could happen that quick.

Same here. It could happen that quick. An agent is dog tired from a long day, wants to look at a few queries and sample chapters. It’s your chance. But if that first page isn’t GREAT, isn’t amazing, doesn’t hold their attention, they will move on. Nothing personal. No mean intentions. It could be lovely writing. It could be the best that you’ve done. But does it ‘wow’? Cuz that is what we need to do.

On the first page!

However, the biggest lesson to learn here: it’s all subjective. Believe it. Two agents hated one of the submissions. Hated it. One asked to see the book. Go figure.

That is the thing that keeps me hoping against all odds. Forget the 200 rejections. Find that one.

Now, time to take a look at that first page again. What? I have three characters in separate rooms thinking? Seriously? How did that happen?

2 thoughts on “Surrey Writer’s Con (to pee or not to pee)

  1. Great recounting of Idol. Because of your last observation … that it really is subjective … I’ve had some difficulties in the past figuring out what lessons to take away from this exercise, but you’ve captured it beautifully. You missed the punchline here, however. I can only assume you eventually got a chance to pee … in the proper receptacle?

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