I jump into worlds that I know little or nothing about and write about them like I've lived in them all my life.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Insecure Writers Support Group - How are your Miscalculations and Missteps? Is this obliterating your chances of being published this year?

Hello fellow writers!

How are your 2014 goals tracking? I hope those of you who plan to finish your first novel, submit it, and see it published this year are staying true to your goal. That is one of my many goals this year, and I have been reading a lot (so what's new?) to make sure my submitted novel is the best it can be.

I love the Writers Digest for its predictability. Every January issue they post tons of articles on the topic - 'Write Your Novel in 20..!' True to form, in the latest issue there are so many helpful articles to keep us alert to the miscalculations and missteps we may make in the desire to be published.

Those who choose to self publish may take a different road to those seeking agents/publishers. In Australia, it is easier to find a publisher than an agent. Publishers are actually looking for manuscripts, '...looking for that fresh new voice, gripping story told with sensitivity and power, and characters who leap off the page.'  The accept submissions on certain days/times, but I'm sure they get inundated, so that Chapter One had better be good...or that first line...first sentence...

The WD states that they constantly see the same first-novel gaffes. These mistakes often ensure a manuscript's quick trip to oblivion.

Elizabeth Sims from WD (whose articles I always find helpful) is often asked to evaluate mss from first timers. She lists seven blunders we first timers make as a matter of course, and offers ways to avoid them. I've included quotes/suggestions from her in my post...

Most IWSG posts are short, so I'll just explore one, the one she puts first:

CHAPTER 1: CHARACTER CRAMMING

Elizabeth maintains that the weakest mss from first timers introduce all, or most, of the cast within a page or two. Why would a writer do this? Maybe we're anxious that if someone actually picks up our ms, we want the reader to meet the whole family at once! Do you sketch five, six...even more characters on the first and second pages? Woah! According to Sims, this is completely ineffective. The reader can't take in multiple characters at once! Easy does it...

On the other hand, a self-possessed, perhaps multi-published author: 'knows that a solid opening scene is all you really need to get going. You don't need to lay a lot of groundwork at the same time.' Hold those characters back...ask, who can I save for later? Who is essential to my opening scene?

Here are Sims' suggestions for avoiding this gaffe:

GO HARDER WITH FEWER CHARACTERS

Keep the focus on the action in the scene. She uses an example of a medieval jousting scene - it doesn't need the king and queen or anyone else like the king's mistress, at this stage. Just give the reader the action - thundering hooves, clanging steel, crowd noises etc. along with the knight.

WRITE VIGNETTES INTRODUCING SECONDARY CHARACTERS

Let your readers digest your setup, initial conflict and key characters. Then write one vignette - (maybe, in the case of the above example, a possible conversation between the king's mistress and adviser), before going on to the next.


***

So, dear fellow writers, as we trawl through our mss before submitting, or self-publishing, let's check for character cramming and find imaginative ways to work/link secondary characters into our story.

Click on the badge to access more articles for this month's IWSG.
Or find the Twitter hashtag #IWSG

  • Thank you for reading. Did you find it helpful? How many characters do you introduce in Chapter One?
  • Write...Edit...Publish's latest linky if open for submissions on the prompt What's in a face? - click on the button in my right hand sidebar or visit WEP.




34 comments:

  1. In my latest WIP, THE STARS BLEED AT MIDNIGHT, I have only 2 characters in the whole first chapter, though a third (one of the major antagonists) is the subject of the conversation.

    It is more important to introduce the element of danger in the first chapter with a hint of mystery and challenge.

    As always, a helpful post. Sam tips his Stetson to you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I take my time at introducing characters. There's no rush. And since I kill so many of them off, I need to stagger their introductions.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A good post DX. Nice tips. I think I over-pack my story with characters on the first few pages to give the reading audience people to identify with. The rules can be so confusing sometimes.

    .......dhole

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know what they say about writing rules, Donna...only there to be broken, but I think this is a valid point...

      Delete
  4. My novels are never overly populated, so it's not so much of a concern to me. In my current novella, there are just two characters introduced in the first chapter (but it is only two pages long).

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's rare any of my stories have a lot of characters. Except my latest one. Yikes! Many characters, but they emerge through the story rather than on all on the first page.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Dump all the characters in at once? I didn't even do that when I was new at this. Besides, too many characters and I confuse myself.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes, I wouldn't introduce all my characters at once. And interesting that it's easier to get a publisher than an agent in Australia.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm normally looking at introducing my main character and maybe one or two others.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great post! I've never put all of my characters in the first two chapters, I like to spread them out and introduce them only when they are needed. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I introduce them as they come and are needed

    ReplyDelete
  11. That was very interesting. I think I may over-crammed my first chapter, will have to go and check.

    mood
    Moody Writing

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hey there Denise, I'm so glad my article sparked your interest, as well as discussion on your blog! I appreciate the mention. It's funny, I just read a bestseller from a few years back, Dominic Dunne's 'A Season in Purgatory' and found that he crams lots of characters on the first page. I found it off-putting (and thought about the article I'd just written), but he did a fairly good job of dealing with them after that. I do feel his opening would have been more of a grabber if he'd eased off the character-cramming. Best to you and your writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you have a very good point Elizabeth. Thanks for popping by and adding to the discussion.

      Delete
  13. In the WiP I'm about to submit... two.

    In the one I'm currently working on... six, counting minor characters. But there's a reason for it, so hopefully it works out.

    ReplyDelete
  14. These are helpful tips, thanks for sharing :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. February 6th, 2014

    Dear Denise,

    What a fun and informative post! I immediately checked my manuscript to see how many characters I had introduced in the first chapter. Whew! Only two! Yippee!
    I've never thought about this before. Glad to learn this.

    Best wishes,
    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  16. I keep waffling over subscribing to WD since I have so many other sources for writing advice. I have a number of their published craft books though, and the issues I've come across have very helpful articles.The character cramming is such a common issue for writers, I still struggle with it. I looooove my side characters. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think WD is a great source as the advice is up to the minute.

      Delete
  17. I tend to write about characters based off of real people. I usually just introduce them when they come into my life, and have them exit when they do.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  18. HI, Denise,

    Well, I don't cram characters. I usually start with a lone voice and then add another character. But never more than two in the beginning.

    Great advice. Sounds like an awesome article we all need to read.

    Thanks for the tips, Denise!

    Hope you're well!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great post! More. MORE! about beginner mistakes! Learned so much. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Interesting to read about first chapters, paragraphs, sentences, here when I just wrote about my horrible first chapter at my blog. :P

    ReplyDelete
  21. I guilty of character cramming in my first novel, and haven't totally found a way to fix it. Every time I tell myself "today is the day to work on chapt 1" I get sidetracked with something else.

    I enjoy WD advise too. For some reason, I never read the paper magazine, but always click on the articles in my email.

    Have a good weekend Dx.

    ......dhole

    ReplyDelete
  22. "Writer's Digest" is always crammed with a bunch of useful information. I get other writing magazines, but this is my favorite. You did a great job summarizing some of the info on common errors we make.

    ReplyDelete
  23. To answer the last question, Was this helpful? I can say, emphatically, YES!
    Best--
    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  24. Nice badge for ' a face', Denise! I have it on my post now.
    Best--
    Anna

    ReplyDelete
  25. Great advice on character development. I'm sure some worry that if you don't get everyone out right away, you'll never have the chance.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Great tip, Denise, and quite true that some writers bring a confusing array of characters on stage. What tends to happen to me is that I get distracted with trying to keep track of who is who.

    ReplyDelete
  27. 2 or 3 is a good amount for a first chapter, but I've been known to break this rule. Then again, none of my longer pieces are published....

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hi Denise .. sometimes I want to write a novel, then I read some of the posts and think crumbs characters in or characters out ... but interesting view points ..

    Cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  29. Very interesting! All three of my books have started with two characters in the first chapter. :)

    ReplyDelete
  30. thanks really helpful character cramming is something I do all to often

    ReplyDelete

I love reading what you have to say. Please leave a comment for me!