Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Week in Review 2/8/15

Good morning everyone!

Last week's review had an interesting continuation of the discussion of suspense versus tension contributed by D.B. Bates:

Tension and suspense are often viewed as synonyms, but I don't see them as that. Suspense is one of many forms of tension, used to propel a reader forward. If tension is about the unknown, then what makes suspense unique? Why isn't it just a synonym?

Suspense is about what's known to the reader, but not the characters. In Alfred Hitchcock's famous bomb-under-the-table analogy, what makes the scene suspenseful is the fact that the audience knows the bomb is there, but the characters in the scene don't. Suspense interacts with readers' engagement and imagination by giving us a cheat sheet that the characters don't have. We're asking, "How are they going to get out of a jam they don't even know they're in?"

The questions we ask in a suspenseful scene do rely on what we don't know (that's how it creates tension), but we're only asking the questions because of what we do know. If we didn't know about the bomb, we'd simply be asking why these two characters met at a restaurant for polite chitchat.

Other forms of tension are created by giving us less information than the characters have, not more. What keeps us reading is a desire to catch up with what the characters already know. Suspense creates tension in the opposite way, and it engages readers' imaginations in a different way

I like this assessment very much. One thing I want to emphasize here though is that I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. The only thing that matters when we talk about the difference between suspense and tension is "Is this useful in making me a better writer."  Much of what I yammer on about here on the blog takes on the allure of The Right Way, but in all honesty, the measure of whether this blog is something to pay attention to is whether it helps you become a better writer.

Of course I hope it does, but if it doesn't, it's not cause you're stupid or doing it "wrong." Everyone learns and improves in their own way. If this doesn't work for you, try something else. You're not an idiot, and I am not omnipotent.

On Monday the flash fiction contest for Death of a Redheaded Woman were announced. Commenters  agreed Andrew Lipkin had a really terrific entry. I thought it was one of the best I've ever seen. At some point I've got to figure out a use for these gems. Over the years, there have been some entries and winners that simply knocked my sox off.

On Tuesday the post about "dream agents" elicited a really interesting insight from CarolynnWith2ns. Her comment that a "dream agent" doesn't' necessarily have to be YOUR agent was the first time I'd really considered that the online community of this blog and other agent blogs allows authors to have some of the "agent experience" without actual representation. All in all, I think that's a good thing, but I need to think about this further.

And if you need a good illustration of the reason I discourage writers from even thinking about "dream agents" take a look at Julie Weathers' comment there at 9:32am.

If you don't have time to read Julie's story, Jenz summed it up perfectly:
Ryan Gosling is my dream guy. I just know if I could meet him, he'd fall in love with me. We'd be the most perfect couple in the history of loving couples and have beautiful babies.

And Colin Smith, picking up the thread of potential clients getting The Call, only to hang up thinking it's a joke: no, this has never happened to me, but I believe it's cause Caller ID always displays "QOTKU" when I ring.

On Wednesday the topic of agent/author communication came up again. Julie Weathers had a VERY interesting comment based on her previous experience: "An agent who has time to chat you up three or four times a week or more has more time on their hands than is healthy." 

I hadn't ever really thought about that before. Honestly, I LOVE talking to my clients. I'd do it all day, every day if I could, but I'd soon run out of things to say if I wasn't actually working on getting their stuff out to editors. Or following up on getting them paid. Or the million other things that I do for them. Hammering out ideas is all well and good, but somebody has to auditing the royalty statements.

On Thursday we return to the subject of querying, with the question of whether it's ok to write a query using two points of view. I loved John "Ol' Chumbucket" Bauer's (sorry about that misspelling chum) cogent summing up: Short answer – A query is a query. It's not a story, not a gimmick, not a synopsis, not a puzzle. It's a query, and those are the rules that apply.

Colin Smith mentioned an ad to illustrate his point that a query that's memorable for something OTHER than the novel it's about isn't an effective query. Julie Weathers also loved that ad, so I had to look it up and watch. (That's one of my favorite things about this blog--looking at the stuff y'all tell me about!)

And Michael Seese gets to sit over in the corner with my favorite grammar-slinger John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun for this one: "Technically, shouldn't the plural of POV be PsOV?"

One of the benefits of checking his blog to make sure I spell his name right is discovering Mr. McIntyre has a cat named Saunders.

Friday and Saturday were taken up with the flash fiction contest. The only downside to those contests is that I really miss the blog post comments on those days. Friday particularly since it's essentially radio silence on the blog.

Of course, there's always fun over on the Facebook page even if the blog is quiet. This week I got in pictures of Sean Ferrell's picture book at the publisher's ALA booth:

And once again, the topic turns to painting! Gossamer makes his opinion known about the vacuum, but check out the paint colors in his house!

And of course, when I got the ARCs of SIGNAL I posted a photo and commenters promptly requested a contest! Which brings us full circle back to today when the contest closes at 10am, and the next week begins!

Have a great week despite this miserable cold weather. I hope you've got great stuff to read!


Kitty said...

At some point I've got to figure out a use for these gems. Over the years, there have been some entries and winners that simply knocked my sox off.

Why not publish them? Even better, you could take us through the entire process, step-by-step.

AND, you could hold a contest for the best title and another contest for the best query. The winners get copies of the book, of course.

In the book, you could explain why you chose each contest winner.

DLM said...

Aww my Gossie! He actually doesn't fear the vacuum so much as he loves high places. From which he can survey the housework in progress ... and any feathered friends out in the yard.

As for the miserable weather - I probably shouldn't mention that down here it's in the 60s today. If it helps, I'm staying in to research the WIP and possibly churn out a couple more new queries.

Dena Pawling said...

This past week I received my manuscript back from my editor, with her suggestions and edits, and I've started the final pass before querying. So of course now I'm excited again, altho I'm soooooooo tired of reading and re-reading, and revising and re-revising, this book! I wish I could be confident that once this pass was finished, the manuscript would be final, because then I could get back to loving it again. But I know enough to realize that when I get an agent [I'm thinking positive], I'm sure to have more suggestions for revision before the final product. By that time I'll hate this book more than I'm loving/hating it now.

It's 80 degrees here in SoCal today. By next weekend the forecast is 90 degrees. What happened to winter? Last year was the hottest year on record, according to our local newspaper [and we all know everything in the newspaper is true].

We had a teaser in December with some rain and even snow in the local mountains, but nothing since. We desperately need an end to this drought.

Count my vote for Kitty's book idea. I'd buy that for sure.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay, enough already with the nice weather reports. We're braced for another onslaught, so to all you sunshine and warmth yahoos...may the bluebird of happiness, which is perched upon you spikey ray of sunshine, poop on your bottle of SPF 30.
Have a nice day :(

Still lovin' the WIR.
Put me in for a copy of the book too.

Colin Smith said...

What to do with the flash contest entries? If you know a publisher that would take it, sure, why not compile a book of them? Include winners, finalists, and others of note. And, as suggested, add your comments on why you think these stories work. That would be the value-add since the stories are already available online (if you're willing to search for them). If you include stories by people who have yet to secure an agent, they could include the book as publishing credit on their queries! :)

If you plan to continue the contests on a reasonably regular basis, why not set up a blog specially for them? You could announce here when a contest is coming, and direct people to the contest blog. That would avoid the radio silence when there's a contest on, and it would also put them all in one place for easy access should we want to go back and re-read them.

Just a couple of thoughts. :)

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Well, you could always double post on Friday. One, the locked post for the Flash Fiction contest, and the other a comment-enabled post.

Karen McCoy said...

Much of what I yammer on about here on the blog takes on the allure of The Right Way, but in all honesty, the measure of whether this blog is something to pay attention to is whether it helps you become a better writer.

Everyone learns and improves in their own way.

Taping this to my wall. Or my forehead. Whichever is easiest.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey guys, lets not scare off our esteemed QOTKU or she may back-stroke her way to owning a Wi-Fi-less Sherwin Williams Franchise is Tahiti.

Colin Smith said...

One more thing (spot the Columbo devotee)... That's an interesting point about agent blogs giving the unagented a taste of the agent-client relationship. Yes, it does take agents away from tending to the needs of their clients. But I think there's an understanding among the unagented that we are not the agent's priority. While Ms. Shark will answer the phone to Patrick Lee any time of the day or night, she will respond to our emails and comments as she has time. The fact she DOES respond is a blessing to us. We understand. And we are grateful to QOTKU (for one) for making herself available to us.

Aside from the social benefits of hanging out with fun people online, there is a business side to this, and it's called "networking." What a great way for agents to find potential clients and guide their paths before they even start querying. I can't begin to count the times I've seen newbie writers online making rookie mistakes, only to realize the only reason I know they're making rookie mistakes is because I've spent so long hanging out on agent blogs (this one in particular), asking questions, and learning from articles and comments. If more agents spent time doing what Janet does here, their jobs would get much harder because the quality of their queries would increase. I'm sure of it.

Another very important thing this kind of agent/non-client conversation does is tear down barriers. How many agents like to be perceived as "industry gatekeepers"? As I understand it, not many. How many unagented writers really understand what a literary agent does? How many still live under the perception that the literary agent is there to make sure you are properly dressed and have all the correct credentials before you can enter the publishing banquet? Too many, I daresay. But no-one who's regular to this blog, I would venture.

So, all this to say THANK YOU, Janet. You and the other agents who make time for us are not only doing us a great service, but you are sowing seeds that the publishing industry will harvest to its benefit in years to come. Mark my words. :)

Megan V said...

Well said Colin. Of course, if I'm ever fortunate enough to attend a publishing banquet(that's not the metaphorical sort) and I'm not properly dressed, I beg the agents of the world to say something. Please. :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and just one more thing. Those shoes. My wife says I need to get new shoes. If you don't mind me asking, how much did you pay for those...? ;)

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

So many things to comment on:
You may THINK your phone calls always show up with QOTKU as the caller. On my phone you'd be unknown. My kids, who are in my contact list, who are properly identified by name when they text, are "unknown" when they call. Either that or my phone didn't know WHY they were calling. The only person who it always identifies is my boss, and she pays the bill so maybe that has something to do with it. But that's OK. Friday I ran the phone through the washing machine. It's now an ex-phone.
You checked to make sure you spelled John McIntyre's name correctly. You did not on mine. My name has no "e" in it. But that's OK. I've never worked for a newspaper that spelled my name correctly every time. My earliest memory is my mother correcting someone on the phone who misspelled the name. The family story is my great, great grandfather lost the "e" overboard when he came to America.

Amy Schaefer said...

I'd love to see a flash fiction book, too, but I wonder how much work would be involved in tracking down all of the past contestants and obtaining their rights. I suspect it would teeter perilously close to More Trouble Than It's Worth territory.

(Although it would make a very funny set of blog posts.)

Janet Reid said...

John, surely you mean coming to Amrica, right?

And sorry about that extra e in your name. I fixed it for you.


Michael Seese said...

I wish I had gotten to this earlier.... So as an open question to my fellow authors, the suspense / tension matrix seems a little more challenging in first person. After all, how can I (the author) know about (and mention) the bomb under the table if I (the narrator) do not?

Jenz said...

You may not be able to show the bomb under the table, but you can drop hints that the character does not pick up. It's a really tricky balance--you risk the hints being so subtle readers don't notice them, or so obvious the character appears stupid for not noticing.

Ah, the hardships of writing first person. You can't just stick a bomb under the table.

Colin Smith said...

Michael: What Jenz said--drop hints within the MC's narrative that s/he may not notice but the reader might. The ease with which he was able to get that table. The fact he's alone. The quiet ticking he hears during a lull in the noise that he mistakes for someone tapping, or a nearby clock...

It's certainly harder with 1st. Not much easier with 3rd close.

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I keep missing the contests. I really must schedule it into my remembrall with alarms and everything to read this blog on the weekends simply so I can participate in the contests.

While Her Sharkness doesn't rep what I write, she's still one of my dream agents because all the personal advice she's given me has been spot on.