Author Archives: teresafannin

Beta

So. Beta. The second (usually second-brightest) star in a constellation. Or, denoting the second of a series of items, categories, forms of a chemical compound, etc. Or, the 2nd letter of the Greek alphabet.

Nope, not never first. Beta is second. According to Literary Rambles, A beta reader is, essentially, someone who reads your work and offers input while it is in draft form but no I say, it is less than that and yet more.

 I have critique partners, you say.  Well, yes. And a critique is more than just an up or down ruling.

For me, my critique partners see the story first,  from the very beginning where it is just words on a page, a smidgen of an idea,  to the way it forms into story where we talk about the main character as if s/he exists in real time.

We worry about what is said, how it is said, what are the MC’s feelings or not, is s/he hurt or in trouble. We  want s/he to get out of that trouble, to solve the mystery, to change and grow, to be better than what they were at the beginning.

So all the ins and outs of the plot, the obstacles for the main character, the needs and wants, yes all, we want it all! And then you are done. You like what you wrote. Your critique partners like what you wrote. Now what.

Second reader. Yes. someone who is not familiar with the story, the way the MC first struggled with the mystery and now struggles with emotions. You want someone who can read the story without the weeks, months, probably year or so, of attachment to the character. Yep, just like an editor or agent. Someone who is coming to the story for the first time.

I have asked one other person out side my critique group to read one of my stories. But I have recently been a beta reader for another, a friend. It was a great opportunity to see the story without introduction, like I would pick off a library or bookstore shelf or on the digital library site. I enjoyed staying with the story but making comments on the character, the nuances, the plot. Why? because most often what you see in another’s story is also happening in your story. It do make you a better writer, a better storyteller.

Yay for Second!

Archie Goodwin

I have loved Archie, well, just forever! And so when I saw this book, I just had to read it. It had a nice classic feel. 1930-50s New York City.

The book introduces Archie Goodwin as a young, I’m guessing nineteen or twenty year old and a very competent and already well-known Nero Wolfe.  Yes, Inspector Cramer appears as well as Sergaent Stebbins. S’matter of fact, the whole gang was there, Saul, Fred, Orrie along with Fritz and Theodore, although in this one we don’t really get up to the Orchid room.

Yes, Archie drinks his milk. Although I was surprised that he had a scotch and water. And he is very savvy, lol, for someone just out of the rural areas of Ohio.

The mystery is a good one; who kidnapped the son of a rich New Yorker with a home out on Long Island and also killed two people, a chauffeur and a rag-tag homeless man.

It was an easy read, especially since I felt like I knew everyone and was just waiting to see how the mystery unfolded and how Nero and Archie came to work together.

I wonder if this is enough to get you into the Nero Wolfe books. I started them when I was young, and they were clever, urbane, witty.  And this was long before CGI or action sequences, when mind over matter counted. Still, I would recommend this to anyone who loves a good mystery, who is intrigued by how a mystery is solved and who enjoys the characters that take on these cases. Although Archie is young in this one, I do remember that neither Nero nor Archie ever aged, much like Nancy Drew or any of the ‘sleuths’ of the time.  They solved mysteries and were pretty much two dimensional characters. Yes, they had homes, families, likes, dislikes, but that never, every got in the way of a story.

A different time. Today you could not get away with a character who had no emotion, no wants, needs. In the days of Nero Wolfe the entire story was about the mystery and the way it was solved. Today it is about the mystery, but we want to identify with the character, feel for them, need them to succeed.

Sigh. For me, it will be all about the mystery!

Dreaded…

A pain in the neck, bent over your computer or tablet, typing or writing, it is the dreaded synopsis. DREADED, that is the adjective most often accompanying the word synopsis. And I do get it. It is hard to write, to think through your whole book. You must decide what is a main plot and what are the sub-plots. You must decide who are the main characters, when and how are they included. And whether it is 50K or 90K, it is a lot of thinking to do. But do it you must.

SCBWI Carolinas recently sponsored an online program, Wait! What? A Synopsis? not too long ago. The gist of the presentation was that the synopsis should represent not only the plot but the motivations of the main characters. And Yikes! all of this in under 600 words! One page!  And, at the same time you want to do two, maybe three things:

  1. show the uniqueness of the story
  2. show the believability of the characters
  3. show the ending

And that is not, as Stacy Whitman put on my synopsis, ‘spoilery’ [which may or may not include a dash].

There were multiple corrections on my synopsis for typos and I blame that on my learning to read by sight and not by phonetics and on a mild case of dyslexia which translates into poor mechanics. Sigh. Excuses done!

The most important addition to your writing and publishing according to Ms. Whitman is the synopsis shows that you have thought out your plot and can distinguish it-from beginning to end- along with the main characters in your story. Somehow that seems basic, but no. To me it’s like the pitch. How would I pitch this story?

In BECOMING THE ONLY, twelve-year-old EMILY POUVERAIN DELAQUA, living in the shadow of her successful grandma after whom she is named, struggles with death, intimidation, and deception. A contemporary middle grade novel of 54K words, BECOMING THE ONLY is a genre mash-up of Moon Over Manifest meets a middle grade The Brief History of Montmaray. 

The question I have to answer, I have come to realize, is does the synopsis augment or betray the pitch. Augment is far better, right? Therefore the synopsis should include good details, the
most telling details including the motivation of the main antagonist, whoa!

I like this image because I have come to realize it is true, motivations are the muscle of the story, the heft that brings the story from being a plot with a beginning, middle and end–a hundred pound weakling–to a robust and fulfilling story and it is for story we strive, amend, revise, and edit.

As pain in the neck as it is, a synopsis speaks to the truth of my story and for that I will work it and work it and work it so that I can do the exact same thing for the story itself.

 

 

 

 

 

The White Cottage Mystery

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

The Exceptional! Took the first few chapters to get back into that British detective, cozy village/cottage sensibility and mode, but then really enjoyed the story. Sort of an Orient Express vibe to it as the cast of characters all had excellent reasons to dislike, nay, loathe Mr. Crowther. And a loathesome man he was, although today we might not be so shocked and awed by his manipulations and mental cruelty.

After the first chapters as I was settling in for a great read, I also looked up Ms. Allingham. The fact that she was J.K. Rowlings favorite read was incidential, what I loved was that this first book was originally serialized and that made the chapter structure so much more interesting and beautiful, the handling of each of the main characters, the retuning to them when unable due to timing, proximity or alibi made them an unlikely killer. How much fun to be a reader at that time where you had to wait for the next installment!

And when W.T wrote to Jeffery that he had abandoned the case I felt sure he had found the killer and yet this was one of the few times I was actually baffled as to who was the killer in this story. Masterfully done! The reveal was an Aha! Moment for me and I suddenly saw all the clues line up. Delicious. I shall read more of Ms. Allingham, definitely.

Conferences

Just saw the new schedule for the 2018 NYC Midwinter Conference and I am impressed. Instead of the NYC conference being more about marketing, it is distinguishing itself as very craft and publishing related for both writers and illustrators. The choices are hard….getting a real understanding of writing history from Laurie Halse Anderson to understanding pacing with Phoebe Yeh….I mean Wow!

Sometimes I wonder if I really do get anything out of these programs, but I have to believe my writing is better, much better than it would be without it. I have learned, I have improved and not only in my writing but in the way to set my story apart in the query and in the synopsis.

I am torn between taking a session on nonfiction or the importance of pacing…oooh, so many choices. As regional advisor and the host of a conference it is hard to get to, no more than that,  it is hard to concentrate on the actual information being delivered by the presenter.  So for me  the LA conference has always been more important to me the writer.  Now the NYC program is full of very craft heavy and experienced well spoken presenters. YAY!  Good news!

This is a departure for SCBWI and one that while appreciated, the element of being able to meet with multiple agents and editors and hear their spiel has been invaluable, but, there is a note that is also worthy of SCBWI “you are invited to submit a query to a maximum of two editors, agents, or art directors whose masterclass workshops you have attended. Please be sure to target your submissions carefully according to the guidelines given to you by the workshop leader. We encourage you to use at least one of your workshop choices for the rare hands-on opportunity to work with our master authors and illustrators.”  Nice, so that too may have a hand in what I will sign up for. 

I have two completed novels, two WIPs and one, maybe two nonfiction to propose. The question is what to go to. I will probably change my mind a hundred times between reading the schedule and actually attending the conference.  Thank heavens for the time to be able to sift through and figure it out.

Maybe the issue is do I be brave and go out on a limb? Or do I look for more savvy on writing?  I’ve discovered that it is not in getting into the right programs but in feeling you’ve got the right information to go forward. So that’s what I will attempt to do for February, 2018.  Sigh, a long way away!