Elizabeth Lyon on Style and Voice

A few months back Elizabeth Lyon gave a talk about Style and Voice from her book Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford To Ignore.

She says that she put style first in her book because style (words used to create a desired effect to fit genre and character),voice (“…the author’s natural use of language to create” authentic characters and story) and a good story, trump craft.

One technique she suggests is “riff writing.” Select a passage from your writing that seems sparse or overly tight and pick a point to “jump off” and free associate without limits to what goes into the text.

She recommends that after riffing on paper, give it a chance to cool off and then see if any or all of it fits into your story.

You might recall that I said, “Writing is like jazz. Each word, like each note, must be unexpected and yet feel inevitable, always following the theme. If it doesn’t echo the theme, then no matter how pure and clear, it sounds wrong.”

Ms Lyon spoke at a Vancouver Writers’ Mixer at Cover to Cover Bookstore in Vancouver, WA. Carolyn Rose and Mike Nettleton coordinate the mixers and are terrific folks. I’ve taken three of the courses they give at Clark College in Vancouver, WA. You might check out their Top Ten Mistakes Newbie Novelists Make.

Post to Twitter

Eric Witchey-Five Minutes on Fiction

Eric Witchey, Five Minutes on Fiction

In the video (part of Willamette Writers’ Five Minutes on Fiction) he talks about a common problem aspiring writers have and how to overcome the obstacle. He gives some good solid advice and it’s worth your time if you want to improve your writing.

Eric Witchey has published science fiction, fantasy, horror, literary, romance, erotica, outdoor adventure, young-adult, and true crime stories. According to his bio, [w]hen not teaching or writing, he restores antique HO locomotives or tosses bits of feather and pointy wire at laughing trout.”

In the video he mentions a story he sold titled Batbaby and Bigfoot vs. The Blood Trucking Vampire. You can find it here at Fortean Bureau.

I saw Eric at this year’s Willamette Writers’ Conference and he alone made it worth my while (if you’re interested, next year’s conference is August 7-9, 2009).

Post to Twitter

Pitch It

Lexi asked me to say more about the “Pitch.” For those of you who don’t know, a “pitch” is a soccer (or for Lexi, a football) field. It is 90-120 meters by…. It is also what an ale brewer does with the wort….

A “pitch” is the selling of a writer and his (or her) work to an agent or publisher. The pitch is akin to speed dating for writers.

The speed dating analogy seems apt. Each of you are considering having a relationship. If there’s a good fit you will become a team. You will write and do some promotion and allow her (or him) to do her (or his) job which is trying to make the most for your writing. She (or he) will take 15% of everything you make forever.

I am not an expert. I have been only to conferences hosted by the Las Vegas Writers and the Willamette Writers. Their formats varied slightly. Willamette has non-fiction, novel, and screenplay pitching. I don’t recall what LV had beside fiction. All I can do is give my impressions and I’ll use the WWC since it’s my most recent experience. I did a bit of prep before the pitch:

  • Know the agent’s preferences and specialties. You need to know your audience for a pitch—don’t pitch a horror book to an agent specializing in children’s books.
  • What is the book about?
  • Why are you the person to write this? What makes you qualified?
  • Why now?

I took a résumé folder with my business card attached, the first five pages of my novel enclosed, the working title on the front, and no illusions about going all the way. While I had no illusions, I had hope. There are authors who have gotten book deals from these events. An agent’s want is simple: “The truth, brilliantly told.”

Before the pitch session I waited outside the meeting room along with thirty or so others. Inside, the agents sit, one to a table, waiting for the next writer. When the doors open, I was carried along through as if the dam were breached and I was a cork on the pond. Pitchers have ten minutes, from the moment the doors open, to tell the agent they’ve signed up to pitch to, why you’re the one his (or her) agency simply must sign.

After I sat down, I introduced myself, handed the folder to the agent, and gave him/her a quick synopsis of the story and why I was qualified to write the story: “The God of Trees is an eco mystery-thriller about a forester who wants to continue logging but an eco-terrorist group stands in his way. I’m a forester with thirty years of experience with the California Department of Forestry.” We chatted a bit after that about the current climate about environmental topics. One agent asked to see one hundred pages, the other requested the first three chapters.

I don’t think anyone should read too much into this. By the agents using a writing conference to screen potential writers they know that the writer is serious enough to plunk down cash for the opportunity to be listened to.

By asking to see a sample they don’t have to say no directly to the writer’s face. The chance of landing a contract with an agent and then with a publisher is slim.

After ten minutes, the doors opened and border collies nipping at my heels herded me out.

For more about pitching your work see:

Post to Twitter