“I am a part of all I have read.”
— John Kieran
“Just about every writer unconsciously leans on a “crutch” word. Hillary Clinton’s repeated word is “eager” (can you believe it? the committee that wrote Living History should be ashamed). Cosmopolitan magazine editor Kate White uses “quickly” over a dozen times in A Body To Die For. Jack Kerouac’s crutch word in On the Road is “sad,” sometimes doubly so – “sad, sad.” Ann Packer’s in The Dive from Clausen’s Pier is “weird.”
Crutch words are usually unremarkable. That’s why they slip under editorial radar – they’re not even worth repeating, but there you have it, pop, pop, pop, up they come. Readers, however, notice them, get irked by them and are eventually distracted by them, and down goes your book, never to be opened again.
But even if the word is unusual, and even if you use it differently when you repeat it, don’t: Set a higher standard for yourself even if readers
won’t notice. In Jennifer Egan’s Look at me, the core word – a good word, but because it’s good, you get *one* per book – is “abraded.”
Here’s the problem:
“Victoria’s blue gaze abraded me with the texture of ground glass.” page 202
“…(metal trucks abrading the concrete)…” page 217
“…he relished the abrasion of her skepticism…” page 256
“…since his abrasion with Z …” page 272
The same goes for repeats of several words together – a phrase or sentence that may seem fresh at first, but, restated many times, draws attention from the author’s strengths. Sheldon Siegel nearly bludgeons us in his otherwise witty and articulate courtroom thriller, Final Verdict, with a sentence construction that’s repeated throughout the book:
“His tone oozes self-righteousness when he says…” page 188
“His voice is barely audible when he says…” page 193
“His tone is unapologetic when he says…” page 199
“Rosie keeps her tone even when she says…” page 200
“His tone is even when he says…” page 205
“I switch to my lawyer voice when I say …” page 211
“He sounds like Grace when he says…” page 211
What a tragedy. I’m not saying all forms of this sentence should be lopped off. Lawyers find their rhythm in the courtroom by phrasing
questions in the same or similar way. It’s just that you can’t do it too often on the page. After the third or fourth or 16th time, readers exclaim silently, “Where was the editor who shoulda caught this?” or “What was the author thinking?
So if you are the author, don’t wait for the agent or house or even editorial consultant to catch this stuff *for* you. Attune your eye now. Vow to yourself, NO REPEATS.
And by the way, even deliberate repeats should always be questioned: “Here are the documents.” says one character. “If these are the documents, I’ll oppose you,” says another. A repeat like that just keeps us on the surface. Figure out a different word; or rewrite the exchange. Repeats rarely allow you to probe deeper.”
For more excellent tips on writing from Pat Holt, click HERE.
If you want to write a mystery, read mysteries. If you want to write a Christian romance, read Christian romances. If you want to write a Christian general fiction, such as Karen Kingsbury’s works—read Karen Kingsbury’s books. You get the idea. You must be well versed in the type of genre you wish to write. Editors and agents will expect this.
This is an informational book that releases new every year and has a list of editors and agents who are acquiring new material.
Once you’ve finished your book, and you’re happy with it, write a very brief one-sentence or two-sentence synopsis. This will go a long way in helping you convey the story to an editor or agent. Example: Gideon’s Gift is about a sick little girl, an angry homeless man, and the gift that changes both of their lives forever. You need something like this for your book.”
For more tips on writing from Karen Kingsbury, click HERE.
“Are sad stories with sad endings the domain of the lonely, the manic-depressive, and the masochistic?
…Take a moment to think about the stories that have changed your life. I’m willing to bet many of them were stories of pain, loss, sacrifice, and sin.
These are the stories that speak bluntly about hard subjects and force their characters—and their readers—to face hard truths and, hopefully, walk away from the realizations as someone slightly different and perhaps slightly better.
Few of us would want to subsist on a steady diet of tragedy, but all of us are better for having occasionally cleansed our reading palate with the astringent bite of these unflinching portrayals of bittersweet truth….
Sad stories don’t have to be depressing stories. The stories that have broken my heart and changed my life are stories of great tragedy, but they’re also stories of great hope. That, right there, is where we find the true power of the sad story—because light always shines brightest in the darkness.”
For more tips on writing from K.M. Weiland, click here.
The idea of a query letter is to take this book you’ve written, this incomparable masterpiece that took five years and destroyed your marriage, and summarize it on a single piece of paper while still leaving enough room in the margins for a publisher or agent to scribble, “Sorry, not for us.” You have to try to pitch your book in such an intriguing way that the publisher immediately writes back to you, demanding to see sample chapters (or the entire manuscript). This may sound tough to do, but in truth it’s even harder. Your query needs to stand out from the other 80 the editor is going to read that day, but avoid amateurish gimmicks, like $50 bills.
There are plenty of good web sites on how to write a query letter and approach agents/editors. Some of them are:
One thing you must do is say what sort of book you’ve written. This is what agents/editors will be scanning for when they read your letter: is it a thriller, a comedy, a rural human drama? Most writers, including me, find this very difficult to do, and tend to produce descriptions like, “It’s kind of a futuristic science-fiction comedy-come-romance set in Medieval France with a strong anti-war message.” This is why authors should be banned from describing their own novels.
So I suggest enlisting help: have your friends read your book and ask them what novels they think it’s similar to. Then at least you’ll have a rough genre to start from. Also, for practice, try to describe your book in a single, short sentence. Ask people if it sounds interesting, and rework it until it does.
This is very much personal opinion, but I think a good description often combines something common (“It’s a detective story”) with something original (“where the PI has a terminal illness”). The common part grounds the story, letting us know what ballpark it’s in. The original part shows it’s something special.
Update (May-07): If you’re interested, I’ve posted my old query letter, which I sent out while agent-hunting in 1998. It’s kinda cringe-worthy reading it now, definitely over the top, but since it worked…”
For more great info from MaxBarry, click here.
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