Monday, 27 October 2008

From Erin Brown...

Inside the Agent/Editor Relationship

by Erin Brown

All authors need agents. Period. There, I said it. I won’t take it back, and you can’t make me. I’m sure there are a few of you reading this who think they’ll do just fine without one of those 15% grabbers, so I’ve put together a short quiz. If you answer “yes” to even one of these questions, you’re absolutely right: you do not need an agent. So stop reading because your book is certainly already published.

A) You attend book signings and parties at least once a week, during which you mingle with high-powered editors over canapés and champagne (and yes, the editors have to be willing to speak to you for more than two minutes).

B) You fly to New York at least four times a month to treat editors to $200 meals in order to learn their likes and dislikes (oh, and for some reason, these editors actually take your call and agree to lunch).

C) You are well-versed regarding the ins and outs of foreign rights, audio rights, serial rights, advances, royalties, auctions, preempts, subsidiary rights, and how to interpret mind-boggling legalese. You’re also adept at negotiating for days, possibly weeks, until you get the best deal for your novel (a first time author would never just take what’s offered to them in the overwhelming excitement of finally getting published, right? Right???)

As you can surmise, in addition to protecting your interests, an agent worth his or her salt has established close relationships with editors at various publishing houses. The relationships are established over months (or years) of lunches, dinners, pitching projects, and even slurping ice cream during long, hot summer days. Now you’re probably thinking that this whole agent/editor thing sounds more like dating, and in a way it is. Agents and editors get to know each other very well—their likes, dislikes, how they behave in tense situations, how they communicate, and whether they simply like each other. Editors actively court agents, although I’ve always thought it should be other way around (maybe I’m just bitter because no one ever picked up the check for my $40 caviar appetizer), in the hopes that the agent will think of them first when the next Da Vinci Code or Harry Potter or Bridget Jones comes along.

Over these two martini lunches (any more than that and neither party even remembers they’re in publishing by the end of the meal), agents tell editors about their favorite projects and authors, while editors do the same. Of course, we have to throw in a little gossip—the author at last night’s signing who danced on the dais with a lampshade on his head; the assistant publicist who joined him in the macarena—and everyday chit-chat. The goal is to establish close and mutually admiring relationships so that an agent can use their “insider access” to move their client’s novel to the top of the editor’s huge submission pile, get a response within a week instead of three months, and negotiate better deals. Most importantly, the agent knows which editor will respond to which project. After weeks, months, and years of courting, the agent will know that while one editor wouldn’t touch a YA fantasy novel with an electric cattle prod, another one would give up their first-born to get their hands on it (trust me, I’ve seen it happen. Don’t worry though—little baby Henry is very happy in his new home).

The editor relies on their best friend the agent to give him or her a first shot at promising projects that fall within the editor’s literary tastes, to be an effective middleman between the editor and author, and to simply be a reliable and pleasant person to work with. Of course, there are high-powered agents who are the complete opposite of pleasant, but they are effective. From an editor’s point of view, I’ve always found that working with a kind, rational, up-and-coming agent was highly preferable to dealing with an icon in the business who screams, yells, and bullies to get his or her way. These powerful and successful nut-jobs are out there, although I believe that they are a dying breed (this might just be wishful thinking).

The bottom line is that agents and editors spend a significant amount of time courting each other, building relationships and yes, lingering over fantastic lunches (another reason why it’s better to be an agent in New York instead of Boise—the restaurants are much better**). Lasting friendships are born, trust is established, and relationships are cultivated over years.

So even if you answered A, B, and C in the affirmative (and I don’t believe you for one second!), leave the schmoozing, back patting, and mutual admiration society to the editors and agents. You definitely won’t get to spend your days sipping cocktails and noshing on sushi at De Niro’s restaurant, but you’ll be able to concentrate on more important things—like writing. Which, in the end, is what it’s really all about.

**Residents of Boise, please send letters of complaint to the website editor

Erin Brown worked as an editor in New York City for over eight years. She recently left Manhattan to start her own freelance editorial business. To learn more about Erin, visit her Web site at

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Dialog Practice.

I have done a short story in dialog-only. It needs some editing still but feel free to comment.

What do you think?

Wet Dog Smell

Jayne: That woman murdered her dog.

Latisha: What!? What woman?

Jayne: Across the street, there, with the red bag walking into the green building. See her?

Latisha: Yes. She looks like a respectable person. You think she murdered her dog?

Jayne: Have you seen Rear Window? It’s one of my favourite Hitchcock. Classic. I was watching it last night…not the new one, the old one, with wonderfully handsome James Stewart…

Latisha: What!? No wait. You just said the woman murdered her dog! Why are you changing the subject? Did she murder her dog?

Jayne: Oh yeah, I think so. Pretty sure in fact that she murdered it.

Latisha: Okay…then you must explain. Why do you think that?

Jayne: Well, mainly because she doesn’t have a dog anymore…not yesterday or the day before…in fact, it’s been three days now.

Latisha: And?

Jayne: People are creatures of habit, they don’t change unless they have reason to. If a person walks their dog everyday and then suddenly stops, that would be unusual.

Latisha: So, she stopped walking the dog. Yes, I can see how one would leap straight to murder.

Jayne: That’s why you’re an editor and I’m the writer. You cant see past the obvious. I’ve lots of reasons to think she’d have murdered it.

Latisha: Like what?

Jayne: James Stewart in Rear Window broke his leg and because he was stuck at home, had nothing better to do then look out his window at the neighbours. Eventually, he started suspecting that one of them murdered their wife.

Latisha: And, from that movie you have come to the conclusion that red-purse lady murdered her dog.

Jayne: [silence]

Latisha: What?

Jayne: You’re mocking me. Do you want me to explain to you or not?

Latisha: Please.

Jayne: I haven’t broken my leg but I come to this coffee shop everyday around six. I grab a coffee and sit down here. From this table I’ve got a great view of the street and I watch people walk by. [silence] Red-purse lady, I call her Maitland…

Latisha: Why?

Jayne: Because that’s the name monogrammed onto her book bag. Anyway, Maitland walks home from work with her bag every day. At six-twenty on the dot, she unlocks the door to that green building there across the street and climbs four flights of stairs to her apartment.

Latisha: Really?

Jayne: Clockwork. Now watch, its six-twenty-three…just wait and watch…There! See, her light just went on.

Latisha: Yes I see.

Jayne: Everyday for the last three weeks, you can see the light peak through her window there beginning at six-twenty-three. It’s her flat. And up to four days ago, at six-forty exactly, she would exit the building with her small…I think it was a Yorkie, dragging behind her on a leash. She walked around the corner and was out of sight for twenty minutes at which time she’d reappeared and re-entered her building. Seven o’clock on the dot.

Latisha: You do know her.

Jayne: I could’ve been a spy, sadly my talents are wasted on my writing. [laughs] Anyway, she did this every day, even on the weekend. Until four days ago…

Latisha: …When she murdered her dog.

Jayne: The dog - which I think originally belonged to her ex-boyfriend - when they broke up, for some reason, became hers. Which is unfortunate because Maitland began to hate it.

Latisha: What made you assume she hated the dog?

Jayne: Mostly, it was how she dragged it on the leash. The dog would stop to pee on that lamp post and half-way through its business, yank. She never looked at it, never talked to it, just yank, yank, yank.

Latisha: I know a lot of people who hate their dogs, they don’t kill them.

Jayne: You’re right. But she did.

Latisha: Okay, let’s assume you’re right. How did she murder her dog?

Jayne: I think in the end, she had ran out of options. She drowned it.

Latisha: This is insane! These are incredible accusations. What are you basing all this on?

Jayne: When Maitland and her boyfriend were together, they would take the dog for a walk everyday. Arm in arm, laughing and talking. They were happy, the dog was happy…

Latisha: Everyone was happy.

Jayne: Then suddenly, three weeks ago, the boyfriend wasn’t there anymore…

Latisha: Maybe he’s sick?

Jayne: That thought entered my mind, but, for three weeks now, the lights come on at six-twenty-three. Before they broke-up, the lights were on already when she got home, meaning her boyfriend was already in the flat before she arrived home. He does not live there anymore. Besides, I haven’t seen him. God, I hope she didn’t kill him…[silence] No, couldn’t have.

Latisha: Why not?

Jayne: The phone calls.

Latisha: That’s a relief.

Jayne: After he left, she continued to take the dog for a walk so he wouldn’t use the flat as a toilet. The first week after the breakup, she would walk the dog and talk on the phone with him.

Latisha: Why do you think it was him?

Jayne: Her body language. You could just tell, she exuded anger. Gesturing wildly, yelling into the phone. Even the dog was afraid of her, cowering on the leash. You’re only that angry to your family or ex-lover…I suspect ex-lover because he was no longer in the picture.

Latisha: Okay.

Jayne: Anyway, from that time on, her anger began to be taken out on the dog. No longer was he cute Yorkie, he was the enemy’s cohort. After one of those heated discussions, she spent a minute or two just looking at the dog. It was the look in her eyes that made me worry about the dog’s welfare.

Latisha: [silence]

Jayne: One time while he urinated on that lamppost, she broke of a piece of a chocolate bar she had in her hand…comfort food perhaps. After breaking off a piece and eating it, she deliberately dropped a large piece at her feet on the pavement where the dog was standing.

Latisha: Chocolate’s dangerous for dogs!

Jayne: Yes.

Latisha: What happened?

Jayne: Fortunately, or maybe not considering, the dog sniffed it but didn’t touch it. I guess he didn’t care for it. Realizing she failed, she dragged it down the block again for the twenty minute walk. Personally, if I was going to kill a dog, and I wouldn’t because I love them, but if I was going to, I would use pills. Crush them in the dog’s food.

Latisha: She didn’t think of it?

Jayne: I think she did because a few nights later, she came home with a New London Pharmacy bag. I could see a bottle of some sort in it.

Latisha: Did it work?

Jayne: No. Two days later, the dog was out for a walk.

Latisha: What do you think happened?

Jayne: Maybe the dog didn’t eat it, or perhaps he did and vomited. I have no idea.

Latisha: So you think she drowned it because it was the last option?

Jayne: It was four days ago, she dragged the dog again through the park again but this time it was only ten minutes rather then twenty and she was in a rather unusual hurry to be home. It was raining so at first I thought that might be the reason but she has taken twenty minute walks in the rain before. She grabbed the dog and hurried up to her flat.

Latisha: Do you think that was when she had the idea to drown it?

Jayne: Maybe. It must have been or why bother walk it at all if you know you’re going to kill it soon anyway. [silence] I saw the light go on and her form appear at that window. I think that must be where her kitchen sink is.

Latisha: Why do you think that?

Jayne: She will often do things standing in front of that window. Dishes or washing her hands. Anyway, that night when she got home, she stood in front of the window looking down. I can only see her shoulders from here. Now, after contemplation, I think she was watching the sink fill up with water. After some time, she disappeared and quickly reappeared with something in her hand. I thought it was some sort of frozen meat item but, also upon contemplation…

Latisha: It was the dog!?

Jayne: Sadly, I think I assumed the best at the time. I could not see her face, but I did see her struggle with something. At the time I thought she might be pulling apart a chicken…the dog was little see. All I could see was a shadow. About twenty minutes later, she came down with a large black garbage bag and threw it in the bin. The next day, was rubbish collection day. I didn’t realize the scope of that thought until I noticed an empty bin.

Latisha: Oh god, I think I’m going to be sick. Have you gone to the police?

Jayne: I saw her the day after at six-twenty, she had a bandage around one of her hands. Perhaps, the dog put up a struggle. I can’t prove it.

Latisha: You should confront her.

Jayne: And say what? Hello, I’ve been watching you, I think you drowned your dog. By now, I don’t think you’ll find a shred of evidence in her house that she ever had a dog.

Latisha: What are you going to do? She can’t get away with that.

Jayne: You’re right. That’s why I called you here tonight. I have a story idea I want to run by you…about a woman named Maitland who drowns her dog. When published, I will see to it personally she gets a copy…

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Point of View

Point of view is one of the most difficult things as an author to keep right...often times we start out a chapter in one POV and end in another...

Maybe sometimes we change constantly through out...

What is POV? What are the different types?

This article below can be found at

Most intimate is first person POV. The reader gets the closest possible link to the thoughts and feelings of the character but at a loss of wider knowledge. The reader cannot know anything that the lead does not.

In contrast, omniscient is least intimate POV but lends the widest overall understanding. And third person POV is very much a compromise between the other two.

Now let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each.

First Person POV

In this POV, the author and the reader are in the characters’ shoes. It is from the character’s viewpoint (he/she is telling us what happened) using words such as “I,” “me,” and “my.”

I walked down the road, my bag swinging with each step. I saw a stray dog. “Where is your home?” I asked.

The author cannot include anything not witnessed by the character. For example, the lead cannot know that the dog’s owners abandoned it that very morning unless she/he saw them doing it. This limits the readers’ understanding of the world in which your characters live and the events that happen there (plot).

Being only able to observe things through the eyes of the lead character can cloud “reality” so to speak. This can be both blessing and curse. It might hide your lead’s guilt and enhance a mystery but could also prevent the reader from having a clear understanding of the plot.

Remember, first person is the character’s story and is therefore heavily opinionated. Everything is seen and understood in reference to the character’s views, abilities, and disabilities (to a hallucinating man, sudden terrifying visions would seem to be reality-- the reader would have to dissect the real from the false-- of course, this could be a good thing! But watch out!).

A way around this “clouding” is to use first person point of view for multiple characters rather than a single lead. This is called first person unlimited. Using this, events can be seen from more than one perspective and the reader attains a more “real” view of your fictional world. Thus, one character’s views and prejudices are evened out by another’s opposing opinions.

First person unlimited is most widely used as a conveyor of relationships. The reader can see approaches and responses and understand why each character reacts the way they do. What one thought of as smart and amusing, another may see as silly and immature. The reader can understand how friendships form and trust builds.

However you structure your story, make sure each character is extremely individual. This takes much skill on the author’s part and if it is not done properly, the reader will find it hard to distinguish between your characters. Accentuate your leads’ views and make them as different as you can while still keeping to your story (it would not be a good idea to have two very similar friends as joint leads). Some authors put the lead’s name at the start of each chapter and (to avoid confusion) then write with that character’s voice for the entire chapter.

First person POV creates a potentially memorable and intimate story. But for it to work well you must:

· Create strong, interesting leads

· Remember you cannot include firsthand something that none of your leads witnessed

· Make each lead unique

Omniscient POV

Omniscient point of view is the least intimate but lends itself to an excellent overall understanding. In fact, from an intimacy standpoint, it is the opposite of first person. It’s a description from the outside. It is like watching the proceedings through a TV camera-- the reader can hear the voices and see the actions but not read the thoughts. There is no lead character but rather it is what a cloud would observe hovering above the scene.

The car raced down the freeway at a breakneck pace the cops not far behind. “My God!” exclaimed Josh.

In third person, I might write, “Geoff was thinking the same thing” but I cannot do that in omniscient POV. Instead, I might have to write:

A frown was on both their faces.

Omniscient POV gains perspective at a loss of intimacy. Author Renni Brown suggests the selection of omniscient point of view in Lonesome Dove was the greatest weakness in an otherwise successful novel. This demonstrates that even a strong plot needs a certain level of character intimacy.

So, in regard to this POV, be careful; these days, omniscient is way into left field.

Third Person POV

Third person is the compromise between intimacy and perspective. In many ways it is the “safe POV.” Most novels are written in third person simply because it offers the greatest versatility and appeals (as compromises do) to a wider variety of people. Third person is often used in the action and thriller genres. And as such, its popularity is not surprising.

The limited variety of third person is simple. The reader walks in a single character’s shoes but may know things that the character does not. Having a single lead like this allows your audience to get to know the character better.

The greatest trouble authors have in using third person unlimited POV is keeping the multiple leads constant throughout singular scenes. This is the “one scene, one POV” discipline that a lot of critics expound. However it is not essential: action author Matthew Reilly swaps leads with rapidity and his novels sell like hotcakes. Just remember constant changing of POV lowers the level of intimacy. Of course for an action book, this not so important.

If you do have to change POV within a scene, it is advisable to leave a gap before continuing. That way, it will be clear to your readers that the point of view has changed.

Whatever your choices, the more leads and changing between leads, the less intimate your story will be. Is the gain of perspective worth the loss of intimacy?


Even after all this, it still comes back to the same things: your story, your genre, and you as the author. Remember, points of view are interchangeable. You can start with first person, go to third, and then change back to first.

So as to the question, “What point of view?” the only constant answer is, “Whatever suits your story.” In the end, whatever others or I say, it is up to you. What do you want?

Think about it…

POV Checklist

Hopefully this checklist will help you decide upon point of view. Answer the yes/no questions and follow the instructions to find out which POV is most suitable for your story. Remember, this is a guide only!

1. Do you want to tell the story from a character’s point of view?

Yes No

If answer is ‘No,’ use omniscient POV

Otherwise continue to question 2

2. Do you want your audience to be in the shoes of that character?

Yes No

If answer is ‘No,’ use third person POV

If answer is ‘Yes,’ use first person POV

Continue to question 3

3. Do you want multiple leads?

Yes No

If answer is ‘No,’ use limited POV

If answer is ‘Yes,’ use unlimited POV

Copyright Callum Shakespeare 2005

Friday, 6 June 2008

Top 10 Rules for Mystery Writing

I found this article on the web...great for those writing the same genre as I...

Even more than writing in other genres, mystery writing tends to follow standard rules. This is because readers of mysteries seek a particular experience: they want the intellectual challenge of solving the crime before the detective does, and the pleasure of knowing that everything will come together in the end. Of course, the best way of testing the mystery writing rules that follow is to read widely in the genre. See how others use them or how and when they get away with breaking them.

1. In mystery writing, plot is everything.

Because readers are playing a kind of game when they read a detective novel, plot has to come first, above everything else. Make sure each plot point is plausible, and keep the action moving. Don't get bogged down in back story or go off on tangents.

2. Introduce both the detective and the culprit early on.

As the main character, your detective must obviously appear early in the book. As for the culprit, your reader will feel cheated if the antagonist, or villain, enters too late in the book to be a viable suspect in their minds.

3. Introduce the crime within the first three chapters of your mystery novel.

The crime and the ensuing questions are what hook your reader. As with any fiction, you want to do that as soon as possible.

4. The crime should be sufficiently violent -- preferably a murder.

For many readers, only murder really justifies the effort of reading a 300-page book while suitably testing your detective's powers. However, also note that some types of violence are still taboo including rape, child molestation, and cruelty to animals.

5. The crime should be believable.

While the details of the murder -- how, where, and why it's done, as well as how the crime is discovered -- are your main opportunities to introduce variety, make sure the crime is plausible. Your reader will feel cheated if the crime is not something that could really happen.

6. The detective should solve the case using only rational and scientific methods.

Consider this part of the oath written by G.K. Chesterton for the British Detection Club: "Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?"

7. The culprit must be capable of committing the crime.

Your reader must believe your villain's motivation and the villain must be capable of the crime, both physically and emotionally.

8. In mystery writing, don't try to fool your reader.

Again, it takes the fun out. Don't use improbable disguises, twins, accidental solutions, or supernatural solutions. The detective should not commit the crime. All clues should be revealed to the reader as the detective finds them.

9. Do your research.

"Readers have to feel you know what you're talking about," says author Margaret Murphy. She has a good relationship with the police in her area, and has spent time with the police forensic team. Get all essential details right. Mystery readers will have read a lot of books like yours; regard them as a pretty savvy bunch.

10. Wait as long as possible to reveal the culprit.

They're reading to find out, or figure out, whodunit. If you answer this too early in the book, the reader will have no reason to continue reading.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Writing is putting words on the paper until the
in your head shut up.

Frank Fradella

Friday, 4 January 2008

Keep it Simple Stupid!

Some great ways to pump-up your sentences.

C - Cut clichés

L - Leave out the adjectives and adverbs

E - Evoke the senses

A - Active voice not passive

R - Reveal don't report