Saturday, September 28, 2019

standing out from the crowd

"Has me thinking hard about how to separate (in pages and query) my post-apoc YA novel from the other 3 million out there."

Ms Hunter didn't actually ask the question, but that's never stopped me from offering an opinion!

It certainly helps to have a plot that isn't so tried and true that it feels familiar.
But there are only about seven stories in the world, and I think it was Stephen King who said there's only one: "a stranger comes to town."

Within those limits how do you stand out?

Words, Roxanne, words!

The right words, the best words, the most vivid words, molded into distinctive turns of phrase, and images you: that's how you stand out.

She sailed on the high tide.

She fled Liverpool on the evening tide.

She ditched Liverpool like she was a lover wanting to borrow money.

Felix Buttonweezer went to the stage depot to meet his new bride.

Felix Buttonweezer met the Wells Fargo wagon as it pulled up at the depot. His mail order bride emerged, slipped in a pile of horse manure and fell into his arms.

Specific words are usually better.
Words that convey an image are usually better.

You don't want too many, and you don't want people to notice the writing.

So: she raked her flaxen locks with her brand new french manicure is NOT what you want.

Learning the difference is a matter of training your eye.
One of the best writers I know for seeing this on the page is Patrick Lee.

Just after three in the morning, Sam Dryden surrendered the night to insomnia and went running on the boardwalk. Cool humidity clung to him and filtered the lights of El Sedero to his left, the town sliding past like a tanker in the fog. To his right was the Pacific, black and silent as the edge of the world tonight. His footfalls on the old wood came back to him from every part of the darkness.

It was just as well not to sleep. Sleep brought dreams of happier times, worse than nightmares in their own way.

Mercury lights over the boardwalk shone down into the mist. They snaked away in a chain to the south, the farthest all but lost in the gloom where the boardwalk terminated at the channel. Dryden passed the occasional campfire on the beach and caught fragments of conversations amplified in the fog. Soft voices, laughter, huddled silhouettes haloed by firelight. Shutter glimpses of what life could be. Dryden felt like an intruder, seeing them. Like a ghost passing them in the dark.

These nighttime runs were a new thing, though he’d lived in El Sedero for years. He’d started taking them a few weeks before, at all hours of the night. They came on like fits—compulsions he wasn’t sure he could fight. He hadn’t tried to, so far. He found the exertion and the cold air refreshing, if not quite enjoyable. No doubt the exercise was good for him, too, though outwardly he didn’t seem to need it. He was lean for his six-foot frame and looked at least no older than his thirty-six years. Maybe the jogs were just his mind’s attempt to kick-start him from inertia.

--opening or Runner by Patrick Lee


Timothy Lowe said...

I, too, never tire of Patrick Lee.

To add to what Janet pointed out: sometimes, less is more. Her first sentence, for instance (She sailed on the high tide) would serve as a wonderfully succinct closing to a chapter. When the meaning is bigger than the words, let the meaning do the talking:

The bell shrieked, rattling the door in its frame. Janet started and clutched her terry-cloth robe close, shaking off the last drops of her shower. Who the hell could it be at this late hour? The IRS? Some weird stalker with a manuscript to schlepp? Heart galloping, she unbolted the latch and hauled open the door.


She sailed on the next tide.

Terry said...

And to emphasize the impression this passage made, I knew exactly where it was from when I read the first sentence. I've read his other books, and they stay with me precisely because of the language.

Beth Carpenter said...

Something to aspire to, for sure.

NLiu said...


Also, YA fantasy is a highly tropey genre so it pays to research. Since it's my genre, I googled "YA fantasy tropes" and variants ("YA fantasy tropes to avoid", "YA fantasy tropes everyone hates", "YA fantasy tropes THAT SHOULD DIE ALONE AND BE EATEN BY STRAY DOGS" etc.) It helped me decide whether or not my MS was so tropey it would leave everyone with a deja-vu-induced migraine. (Hint: love triangles where one girl has to choose between two hot guys = BURN WITH FIRE. Bonus rejection points if at least one guy is a secret vampire.) You can't avoid all the tropes (it wouldn't be YA fantasy otherwise) but it helped me see what was overused and what would make a good twist on a trope and would surprise the reader.

(P.S. I love how so many of us write YA fantasy but know Janet would rather enter a kale eating competition than rep it. Sigh!)

JulieWeathers said...

It's not easy to stand out.

Have a hook.

Have a great opening.

Have a great query.

Have a great synopsis.

Have great opening pages...followed by great other pages.

In other words, be great.

When I pick up a book at a bookstore, I read the jacket flap. I read the opening pages. Then, I read randomly to see if the writing holds up.

It's surprising how many times the interior pages are not as promising as the beginning. It's not nearly as shiny when that Dolly Parton wig comes off.

I agree with Timothy, that might make a pretty good ending line.

Jill Warner said...

Timothy Couldn't have been Mormons that late. The missionaries have curfews. More likely aliens with a terrible disguise. 😉

And now I wanna track down Runner so I can finish reading it.

Katja said...

First, I was expecting EM Goldsmith to jump in and ask why anyone would need to flee Liverpool ;).

Okay, next, I now know (or maybe not, ha ha), why I didn't get an agent (okay, admittedly, I did give up relatively soon..): my writing! BANG.

English is my second language and I find it SO SO hard to write. I've still done it, and then self-published my novel. I do believe I have a plot, and even a great opening. But, yeah, my writing will never be as good as a literary agent would want it to be :(.

If it's okay to mention, I submitted my book to The BookLife Prize by Publishers Weekly last month, and it got a score of 7.5 out of 10. I wanted more, was disappointed, it all looked pretty poops when I read the critique saying "Uncommon turns of phrase..."

I carried on reading once recovered from the initial shock as it said "Uncommon turns of phrase and the novel's European setting add a beguiling patina to the story."
Well, nice of them to give me a bit of there, there ;).

Someone on Twitter then built me up, saying there are SO many books that get lower marks than 5... and those books' critiques are kept private by the authors (I've read there were 800 entries last year).
Fiance has suggested I'd write in German instead and then translate into English. But I've objected because I feel I won't improve if I do it that way. He did say that when I had expressed, like OP-Hunter, that I'd abandon writing altogether.

The last book I read was AN UNWANTED GUEST by Shari Lapena. Has anyone read her books? I have read 3 by her so far, and boy, they leave me FRUSTRATED when I read today's blog post!
In AN UNWANTED GUEST, it says near the beginning "He smiles his charming smile at them."
I do not understand how this could get editorial approval.
Lapena's books are full of simple writing. But she's a bestseller. Despite sentences like that, her books sell, sell, SELL.
Not even the opening of AN UNWANTED GUEST was great, and after chapter four, nothing was at stake yet. NO THING.
How is this possible??

I have created a tiny YouTube channel recently, and I'm going to make a video on this (posted my review of this book on Goodreads already) because I'm so interested in what other people think of these (seemingly??) broken writing rules.

Rant over ;).

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Katja I certainly was wondering why anyone would flee Liverpool. Of course, I was busy watching Liverpool FC squeak past Sheffield United and then writing my blog post comparing Liverpool to Unstable Unicorns. Which probably won't stand out from the crowd of Liverpool faithful blogs.

Ah well, it is indeed hard to stand out in YA and Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi. I know. I am worried about it myself. It's tricky finding those words to make your "Stranger comes to town" story stand-out in the crowd. Keep writing. Keep practicing. What else can you do?

Colin Smith said...

Katja: Hey, Katja! Two recommendations to help keep your sanity (and keep writing):

1. If you haven't already, read WRITING WITHOUT RULES by Jeff Somers.

2. Remember, writing and publishing is subjective. Agents are people with tastes and preferences. One agent's "delicious sentence" is another agent's "weird phrasing." The bottom line is you can only write the way you write. Yes you can improve, and you can always learn and hone your craft. But you will never be another writer. You will always have your style. You will always say things the way you like to say them. And some people will love it. And some will not love it so much. That goes for agents, editors, reviewers, and readers. Just keep writing what you write for as long as you love to do it.

That's my 2 pennies. :)

Katja said...

Colin(did I manage to get it bold?),

1. Of course I know about this book - as in that it exists (it's been talked about a lot here and on Twitter!). I doubt that I'm able to read it, though, because I doubt it is available in a bookshop here in the UK.
I know, everyone will now think "Well, buy it on Amazon, then!!" - and, sadly, here comes my OCD: it doesn't allow me to order online. I can't even order my own book, which I've published through Amazon; all I have are proof copies with a banner saying "not for resale".

I have to miss out on WRITING WITHOUT RULES. :( But I very much appreciate what you said!!

2. Thank you for reminding me - I needed that!! xx

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Read Helen Forrester's Twopence to Cross the Mersey and subsequent books, and you'll know why someobody'd want to flee Liverpool. Granted, I'm sure things have improved since those were penned.

The only Patrick Lee I have read is Runner and I regret having not read more yet. He's on my list! Maybe this puppy will settle down a little in the winter and I'll have time to read again (I love her and she's working wonders for my health I'm sure but geeze)!

Brenda said...

I loved that book.

LynnRodz said...

Katja, I think you have a lot to say, so why not take your fiance's advice and write in German? If it sells well in Germany, it very well may be translated into other languages. Think of it as a stepping stone to publishing future books in English.

Pericula Ludus said...

Leaving Liverpool?? As a rootless roamer currently longing for Liverpool and home, that sentence cannot be written nicely enough to sit well with me. Which I guess goes to show the impact of taste in all of this.