Eep! My amazing mentee, Kalie, placed second in TeenPit this year! Check out her pitch and first 250 words of her novel in the full post! So proud of this amazing young writer!!!
I’m gonna start this off totally upfront. I was a mentee in Pitch Wars ’14 and ’15. I’m now a mentor in that same contest, and TeenPit. I was in a buttload of other contests (I forget most, but Googling can bring them up if you want to spend some time stalking around). And, despite all that, I got my agent through traditional querying.
Contests are amazing. I had little by the way of a writing community when I was introduced to the world of Twitter and internet writing contests. I’d never had real deadlines to work under before. The goals I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned are priceless. And that community? I wouldn’t be writing today without it. I wholeheartedly encourage all my writing friends to enter them.
But also, I know a lot of people who have been completely destroyed from them.
They either didn’t get in, or they did get in and they had a bad experience, or they got in but didn’t get an agent, or so many other things. And I get it. No one’s aren’t wrong to feel that way. I’ve been at the bottom of that pit, and it is dark and lonely and awful.
A vast majority of writers I know are rep’d through traditional querying. (And I know a lot of authors from having been involved in so many contests and competitions and forums for over seven years.) Like I said, even I caught my agent’s attention through traditional querying, and before she signed with me I did an revise and resubmit. Which was amazing and made my story immensely better, even after I’d been in Pitch Wars twice. No contest is the end all, be all. There’s so much more to learn, and infinite room to grow no matter if you’ve been in a contest or not.
Please don’t let any contest keep you from writing if it’s what you love. You aren’t a failure if you don’t get into a contest. You’re not a failure if you do get into a contest and don’t requests or representation from it it. You’re not a failure if you got an agent from a contest but still haven’t sold your book.
You wrote a book.
Tell me how many people you know in your personal life who have accomplished writing a novel. There’s probably not a ton. Most people will never understand enough about publishing and editing and revising to get it to the point you do. And the online community you build is the most important part of these contests, but it can be exhausting with mostly good news all the time. Because, yes you’re happy for them, but you feel like you’ll never have your turn.
Please keep writing. Keep querying. Keep listening and learning. Take breaks and don’t worry about them, we all need them from both writing and/or social media. The odds of getting into a large contest are slimmer than getting a request querying an agent, nowadays. The odds of getting rep’d through a contest are then even tinier. It’s not even a guarantee to get rep’d! I could have entered another Pitch Wars with how long it took for me to sign with my agent. (Well, I was rep’d for about three months after my first PW, but that’s a long story that did not end well and made everything worse.)
Getting an agent, getting a book deal, getting into contest, it’s all like winning the lottery. For the most part, it’s luck. You can’t know if the judge or mentor you submitted to hates a small trope in your book; you can’t know if the agent was having a bad day; you can’t know if the editor you went on submission to just bought a similar book the day before. But it’s not all luck. The fact that you’ve come so far, that you’re reading this post, that you’re investing so much time in your craft, means you’re increasing your odds.
It’s okay to still pursue your dream even if you didn’t win the lottery this time. The only thing it costs you to try again is time (and, let’s be real, emotional perseverance). Like I said, contests are amazing in how they teach you so much, and that community is what pulled me through some of the worst of my dark times. You should keep entering.
But this is not your end all and be all. Your words are more important than a contest.
You are more important.
I’m sorry this line of work is so rough. But you’re awesome for coming so far.
If you want to share/ramble/word vomit your story, both my ears are open for you in the comments or elsewhere (I get that sometimes talking it out helps). If you want to add on encouragement for anyone who needs it, totally feel free to leave some of those, too.
(I also apologize for the sheer amount of italics in this post. And how messy it is. I have emotions about this.)
Hello Pitch Wars hopefuls! Before you go browsing for my genre: I’m already working with my lovely mentee from TeenPit, so I will not be accepting slush in PW 2017. (Though perhaps you might find a piece of the scavenger hunt here!) I’ll also be hopping around the hashtag, and am more than happy to answer Pitch Wars questions! I was a mentee in 2014, 2015, and was in quite a few other contests, so I’ve been around the block. (Evidence here.) If you have any questions you don’t quite want to ask a mentor you might sub, or anything for a veteran to answer, hit me up here, on Twitter, anywhere.
I’ve been a writer for many years, written too many books, and way too many short stories. I work primarily in fantasy, mostly of the YA variety. Give me dragons and diversity any day of the week! My two favorite authors (who can ever pick one?) are Laini Taylor and Diana Wynne Jones, and you’ll find a lot of their influence in my work. As I mentioned above, I’ve been through the wringer with contests and agents and writing in general, so it’s still a little surreal to say I’m agented by my amazing agent, Samantha Wekstein of Writers House, and that I have a graphic novel out, Sacrifices of Shadow. Having come so far, being able to give back to the community as a mentor is living the dream! Especially my experience as a mentor in TeenPit, and getting to continue mentoring Sophia into PW. If you’re curious about her novel, here’s the pitch from her entry, a YA fantasy:
Scout enrolls in demon hunting school for one reason: to destroy the devil that killed her. But her second life is cursed. Part of the devil is inside her, keeping her alive, and it wants to wreak havoc. To save the world – and her new love – Scout must destroy the devil, but if it dies, so will she.
Sophia’s a Vietnamese American writer who was adopted when she was just a baby. She’s enrolled at an early entrance to college program but is still technically a high schooler. Upon graduating she’ll receive her high school diploma plus an associate’s degree so she spends most of her time writing on breaks. She writes really weird dark fantasy and A Pool of Dead Butterflies is her fifth novel!
She’s been hard at work with some pretty heavy revisions, and is taking the new direction (blue) with more enthusiasm and talent than I ever would have dreamed. Seriously, I can’t wait for the world to be able to read her book!
Now that I’m done rambling, here’s a link to all the wishlists if you want to check them out!
Good luck in your Pitch Wars stalking, hopefuls! You’ve got this!!! And like I said, if you have any questions, feel free to hurl them at me.
So, back when I was a wee writer, before this blog was even made and all my posts were on Tumblr, I talked about deep point of view. Pretty much everything I say in that post still holds true. Thought Verbs and Three Easy Steps to Deep POV are still two articles that are invaluable to developing an understanding of deep POV.
But to really get deep POV, we need to go deeper. (ba dum, tss)
Let’s start with what deep POV is. Deep POV is drawing as close to your POV character as you can to give the reader the most immersive experience possible. And wording it like that makes it sound like some magic trick, but that’s what the goal is. You want to create as little wall between your character and your reader. Yes this can work in both third person and first person. No you don’t automatically achieve this by writing in first person. It’s something you consciously do. Unless you’re McTalentpants and already do it.
Now, on the surface level, look at the words you’re using. I used to scoff at filler words. I thought that pretty little roses emerged from my butt as I plopped out new words and that since the sentence I crafted sounded right to me, that it was fine.
As you can guess, I was wrong.
To create as deep an immersion as possible, there are filler words that create distance between your prose and the reader. When you’re thinking throughout the day, do you ever think, “I thought,” “I said,” “I wondered?” No, you just do the thing. And by cutting these words, you enable more room for characterization, world-building, and movement–especially with things like dialog tags. (Watch a movie. Does anyone ever stay still while talking? Your scenes shouldn’t stagnate throughout a conversation, either.) If you want to go all out, here are a couple of giant lists to cut all the filler words. This is my personal list that I always start with:
was, is, even, see, hear, feel, think, just, very, up, down, seem(s), then, that, now, wonder, notice, begins, starts, get, walk, try, only, like, as if, of, really, forward, backward, had, find
Obviously, change tense if you’re in past/present/future/whatever. A couple of other things to watch out for that break reader’s immersion are scene breaks, and italicized thoughts in third person (you shouldn’t be using them in first, period–you’re already narrating from their head, unless you’re implying they never actually think). They’re meant to be used, but with purpose.
All right, now for the part that I didn’t mention in my previous post, and that the posts I link to don’t touch. Let’s go… deeper.
(Please don’t hurt me, I just like puns.)
Every sentence should be infused with your character’s voice. I’m sure you’ve heard this advice before, but rarely have I seen any practical applications of it. Yes, obviously make sure the word choice fits what your character would say. But that doesn’t make it sound like it’s coming from your character’s head.
I swear I’m not all ~hoity toity~ and ~special~ here. Just listing things in a character’s dialog makes it stiff. You might as well be playing a videogame (which I love and have worked in the medium before, but the immersion is different) rather than reading a book. For example, let’s take some action, since that’s the sort of scene that falls into this trap the hardest. I normally sigh when people put in excerpts of their own words as examples, but bear with me:
I kick, and he blocks. I raise my fist again, but he’s faster and gets in the next blow, knocking me down.
It gets the point across. There isn’t much voice, but it’s action, right?
You can do better.
You’re in this character’s head. There’s adrenaline and pain and emotion running through this character’s brain. Every scene, every sentence should have senses, and should have thought. I don’t care about a character that doesn’t care, that doesn’t think–most readers don’t. So you should be using every opportunity you can to show this. Bear with me again as I try to show you what I mean; let’s twist this two different ways.
Sweat drips, stinging in my eyes as I throw my foot forward. He blocks easily, wide grin visible despite my blurred vision. Breath ragged, muscles screaming, jab my fist at his gut–but he blocks it. Again. How am I supposed to prove myself against him? He’s what they say he is: indestructible. His knuckles meet my cheek, the taste and smell of iron flooding my senses. I’m on the ground before I can register falling, dirt caking against my face.
And for a different perspective:
Energy sparks through my body as I kick out–but she catches it. She’s bruised, bloody, half-broken, but she managed to block me. Me. Fire rolls through my veins and I swing, faster than anyone could block.
And yet she knocks my blow off course, nearly keeling over with the force of the blow.
Screw her. Screw this girl who thinks she’s better than me, who thought–
She moves, no flinching for all her wounds, no hesitation as she strikes her fist to my head. Nothing I can do before my world goes black.
Apologies for my trash writing. Now, the same series of events happen in both scenes. In one someone’s giving up, the other someone’s pissed, and hopefully that’s pretty obvious. Now go back and consider that first excerpt. The you get a sense of character through it? But you get any emotion? Any thoughts? I don’t. If we can’t even tell who’s winning, I say that’s a pretty crappy action scene.
I know this is rather nebulous, and it’s hard for me to give you direct advice without seeing your words first. but it’s important, vitally important. Most stories are character driven, and your character can’t drive anything if they aren’t thinking and feeling. So I want you to look at your work, scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and ask yourself what your character thinks and feels about what’s happening. Is it conveyed in the text, or is it in your head? Be sure you’re combining thinking and action–there are a million reasons behind a smile, but unless you specify that your character is forcing that smile to hide their doubt, or genuinely smiling because they love something, I have no way of knowing. Show me.
Deep POV is all about that immersion, getting your reader as close to the story and the character as possible so they’re invested and right there smack-dab in the story–no matter how uncomfortable it is, or how much more painful it makes the plot twists. The more emotion, the better.
Yay for the mentee blog hop! This contest is amazing, and what with last year’s being so awesome (you can read my old post over here) I couldn’t resist joining in this one. Same topic as last year, too: the inspiration behind the novel that got me in. Though there’s a little problem — I don’t remember what inspired the story.
Seriously, no idea where the plot bunny came from. I remember that I came up with the concept early on in my writing exploits, but thankfully didn’t write it then.
The only inkling of an idea I have of where it came from is one my all-time favorite authors: Diana Wynne Jones. Not only is one of the character’s named after a secondary character in the second Howl’s Moving Castle book (shhh), I’ve always adored Jones’s plot and world building. Her worlds are so vast and complex and deep that I can only aspire to be like her one day. Every time I re-read any of her books, I notice new things, I laugh at loud at the jokes, I believe every word she writes, I’m transported to a world that isn’t my own.
So, I don’t have a particularly amazing story behind my novel. It’s just my little love letter to an amazing author that managed to bring a little real magic into this world, and my promise to try and do the same.
Okay, done gushing. If you’d like to hear more stories of inspiration, check out the other Pitch Wars novel origin stories:
Congrats on getting further into the insanity! Pitch Wars was amazing and crazy stressful and so worth it. I learned so much from everyone, and made so many connections. And that’s what matters most: the community.
I was an alternate last year. My mentor was awesome and was able to give me some notes on my full MS, so I hunkered down and got working on some pretty big edits. A bunch of the mentees and alts formed a group, and were there for each other every step of the way. They encouraged me and pushed me when I needed it. But that’s not when community mattered most.
Then came the agent round! I tried to expect nothing since I was only an alt, but I got a few requests. And I sent out a batch of queries too, to test the waters. Within a month I had an offer from one of the agents who requested. And the group cheered me on and kept me going ‘cause some not-so-great things happened around the same time as that offer. And then there were the edits after that, and me questioning my every move — having an agent is a ton of pressure on you and your writing, let me tell you. The group was there for me through all of it, making it so I finally could write, so I got past my edits. but that still wasn’t when community mattered most.
Long story short, I obviously don’t have an agent anymore. I’m not going to go into details, it wouldn’t be right. But it was devastating. I blamed myself and my writing and there have been many points within the past few months where I thought it wasn’t worth it anymore. When you get to that place where you can finally call yourself successful and lose all of it in the span of one e-mail, how can you not question it? It still sticks with me, whispering in my ear with every rejection I get, every mistake I make, every word I write, “Do you really think you’re good enough?”
But the group of people I met through Pitch Wars keeps me going. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I would not be writing now without that group. The pulled me out again and again, they encouraged me, and were there to help whenever I asked for it. You grow a bond with people when you slave so hard over your work together. And, sure, I could go and blame all of this all on the fact that I was in Pitch Wars in the first place. That request did come from the contest. But I would go through it again to get the community I’m so honored to be a part of.
Writing itself is a solitary act, but it takes a village to raise a novel.
So, good luck mentees! And if you didn’t get in, it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve been stalking and participating the hashtag, you’ve already started building your community.
Now, the rest of the #DearPW posts: