So all of the web research I’ve done on writing query letters and engaging a literary agent say that the way to get your book published is for it to be “compelling.” What it shouldn’t be is “boring” or “derivative” or “confusing”…
But when you try to dig down and determine what makes a story “compelling” the only answer is basically the old SCOTUS definition of pornography… “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.”
There are lots of mechanical things that have to be done to give a story a CHANCE to be compelling. For example, you have to do everything you possibly can to put the story in an active voice. That means using active verbs and sentence construction. Then you have to be sure your story is SHOWING not TELLING the story. This is a big thing. Long paragraphs of exposition describing what the characters are doing from a disembodied distance is “telling” the story. Short concise paragraphs filled with dialog and active voice is SHOWING the story.
Right now I’d say about half of my book is showing and half is telling. I’ve got a lot of work to do to rewrite the “telling” chapters into “showing” chapters. Why is there so much “telling” in the first place? Well, in my case it seems to be my natural style to take the disembodied distant view and describe it dispassionately. And when you are writing the first draft all the advice and expertise says “don’t worry about ANYTHING except GETTING THE STORY DONE!” The assumption is that the hardest part about writing is the initial story construction and the work effort involved in slogging through 100,000 words in an effort to get the dang story out of your head and into the real world in the first place. The thought seems to be that you can always go back and do edits and rewrites once that “hard part” is done.
Well, in my case that doesn’t seem to be the case. Churning out page after page of text is no problem for me at all, as most who read this blog probably already know. I’m a wordy bastard. I like words and I type fast and accurately, so words tend to flow directly from my consciousness and stream onto the monitor without me even thinking about the keyboard or typing in between.
But rewriting is hard. Editing isn’t too bad, it’s mostly cleaning stuff up and you can use some actual spelling and grammar tools to make that easier.
When I try to rewrite I get really bogged down in the conversion from passive to active voice and something like this:
The pale disk of the setting sun scintillated behind the veil of distant clouds hovering over the brooding mountains as Joe carefully adjusted the throttle on his speeding motorcycle, cognizant of the fog-slickened road and the many inattentive drivers whose momentary desire to change their music player’s playlist could lead to a sudden and unwanted early grave for Joe and a difficult life for his children.
… becomes something like:
Twisting the throttle forward on his roaring Harley, Joe ignored the setting sun and cursed the line of cell-phone squawking commuters ahead, determined not to leave two fatherless and penniless children.
One consequence of the rewriting is that I tend to reduce the word count by something like 20%. But I also tend to find new things to write about, so I add content while reducing word count. Which means I tend to end up after a rewrite with roughly the same number of words, but might have added two new chapters… As I did this week in my initial rewrites… More to come later…