Friday, September 26, 2014

Query Question: I'm not the norm, is that ok?

I'm writing a memoir, but I'm writing it in the third person using a semi-omniscient narrator. Is that an absolute no-no or might it be acceptable if the writing and story is superior?(1)
Also, it is not chronological, but most of the chapters/segments could stand on their own -- some are like flash fiction (100 to 500 words) and some are like a short story. They are all intrinsically connected (a somewhat difficult task) and I think I've managed to put the thing together in a way that won't confuse anyone.(2) Is it ever possible to have a photo at the beginning of every chapter?(3)


Let's take your questions in order.  

(1) Writing a memoir in the third person is fairly unusual. Oddly enough, I have such a memoir on submission right now.  Writing in the third person creates a distance between subject and reader that often defeats the purpose of memoir: sharing the emotional journey of a life.

You might want to do some research here. Find memoirs written in the third person. Salman Rushdie JOE ANTON is one. I'm sure there are others. Read them, and try to assess whether they work. Were you enticed to keep reading? Did you feel connected to the story?

There's no hard and fast rule that memoir MUST be in first person but it's like writing a novel in second person: you've got to be really really deft to overcome that POV hurdle.

And ask yourself bluntly what you want to accomplish by writing in the third person. Unless there's a very specific reason to do so, first person is just going to make your life a whole lot easier.

(2) You're not the right person to assess whether this works. You're entirely too close to the project. This is where you need beta readers, and honest ones.  Have them read this. Ask "where did you lose interest?" to find out where the problems are.  You ask that rather than "did you like it?" cause no one will say no,and/or "what's wrong" because often people don't know what's wrong. They only know when they stopped being interested or started to skim.

Beta readers are NOT editors. Editors help you fix things. Readers tell you if you've got things that need fixing.

(3) Honestly, probably not. Printing photos in books adds ENORMOUSLY to the bottom line. You can put the photos on your website, keyed to the chapter numbers.  

If you publish electronically of course, this problem goes away, but you're limited to those e-readers that do pictures as well as texts.  This isn't an area I know a lot about, sorry.

I want to encourage you to think not about how you want to write your book, but how it will be experienced by your reader. You can do anything you want with your book if you don't care if anyone publishes it, buys it or reads it. Chapters that go vary from 100 words to 20 pages can be perceived as awkward and bumpy. Third person POV can make it hard to connect with the narrator. It's not whether you CAN do these things, sure you can, it's your book. The question is do you want to? Consider your reader as think about this.


Kitty said...

A third person memoir? That had me googling "memoir vs autobiography" and I found this: Knowing the Difference between an Autobiography and a Memoir

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

#2 is what helped me the most. My memoir is organized very differently from the norm. My readers helped fix the confusing transitions and flow. I knew what I was saying, they didn't get it until I fixed it. People who read early-copy are the best.

Colin Smith said...

More great words of wisdom from the QOTKU. She's right that you can literally write anything you want from any POV you want--it's your story. And there's a certain integrity to telling your story the way you want to tell it. But if we want people to read our stories, we need to balance our artistic sensibilities with connecting with our target audience. And what Janet says about beta readers is so true. Their job is not to make you feel good about your work. They need to give you an objective reader's perspective on what made them laugh, cry, fall asleep, skip meals, miss bathroom breaks, or take more frequent bathroom breaks. They might offer suggestions on improving your book, but their job is to tell you what works and what doesn't.

All the best to you, writer friend!

Julia said...

John McCain says: beta readers are the best. John McCain loves his betas. John McCain fired the ones telling him to stop talking about himself in the third person, and now John McCain can't stop doing it.

But John McCain loves them, nonetheless!

Go out and buy some - today!

(And by 'buy some - today!', I am parodying a commercial, not advocating dropping cash.)

Anonymous said...

I have nothing to comment on b/c, as usual, it's straightforward advice, and I'm not writing a memoir. However, if I may brown-nose a bit..., and, I say brown nose b/c it's going to sound that way when I say this; what's cool about reading Ms. Shark's blog is having an agent providing advice - the same advice I'm sure she'd give to one of her clients. I appreciate what you do.

Now. I just want to know...are we forgiven for taking over your blog? :)

We are lucky to have you do what you do...willing to share what you know, or suggest the best options for various issues and problems.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the second part was intentional..just in case my first attempt at apologetic brown nosing didn't take.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Donna, which begs to ask the question, if Colin drove off a bridge would we follow...yup.

Anonymous said...

Carolynn..., weeeeellll. Not sure I'd go THAT far. :) Maybe just halfway off the bridge.

Colin Smith said...

@Carolynn: If you knew my sense of direction, you might not say that... :)

Elissa M said...

This question touches on something I've seen time and time again in critique groups. And Ms. Reid covers it perfectly: "You can do anything you want with your book if you don't care if anyone publishes it, buys it or reads it."

Most writers want to share their work with readers. A small number of these refuse to change their writing in any way to make it more accessible. An even smaller number are right to take this stance.

By querying agents, a writer is essentially stating they are aiming for the commercial market. If your writing can in any way be classified as "unusual", you must make double and triple sure it falls into the smallest category of "unusual but highly readable."

As others have said, the best way to do that is through experienced beta readers.

DLM said...

I need for there to be a QOTKU shop so I can buy this t-shirt:

"(T)hink not about how you want to write your book, but how it will be experienced by your reader."

Awesome of the sauce-ular variety. Once again.

Lance said...

Incredible information. So helpful. We have complete freedom to write whatever and however we want. And, we can chalk it up to the five (or is it nine?) bad novels we have to write before we write the good one. Get it all out of your system. Then settle down and kick some serious, high-concept thriller sasquatch.

Thank you.