Well, folks. It was fun while it lasted.

As you can see, not much has been happening on this blog lately.

There are several reasons for this, but I will only hit on a couple:

First: It's amazing how much can change in a couple of months--both in our personal lives and on the writing front. A couple of us have signed publishing contracts, and so the need to write, edit, market, promote HAD to take preference over this blog and the services we were providing.

Second: Running this blog, critiquing submissions, providing feedback...well, that's a LOT of dang work. We weren't getting paid for this service. We had a concept and we went with it--for free--not realizing how much time it would involve with very little (nothing) in return for our effort.

Third: Probably the biggest factor that made us come to this decision, was the fact that a good portion of the submissions we received just weren't ready. They needed more revision. We were wanting to give out reviews on AMAZING, fully complete, well edited novels. 90% of what we received didn't come close.

So we've shut it down. We've moved on.

If you liked our comments and our posts, you can check us out on our individual blogs:

Angela Scott: www.whimsywritingandreading.weebly.com or @whimsywriting on twitter or http://www.facebook.com/AngelaScottWriter

D.S. Tracy:

Kacey Mark:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Writing Pet Peeve #1

Posted by Ready, Aim, Hook Me at 6:32 AM


I don't like questions. Not on query letters. Not on book descriptions on Amazon or on back cover book blurbs. I especially don't like characters asking internal questions either.

You're probably wondering what I'm talking about, so let me give you a couple of examples:

From a book cover: He must win her love to save her life, but will he be able to convince her that he's her one true love before it's too late? Umm...should I care? Because I don't. I don't even know the guy. He could be a total jerk. Maybe she's better off without him. 

From a query letter: Will she find her mother? Will her mother accept her now that she knows the truth? What will happen to Clara if her mother rejects her again? **** is a story about a mother/daughter relationship....yada, yada, yada 

Narrative: Did she think she could calm the babe when none of the experienced Puritan matrons could? 'Twas not a punishable offense to offer one's aid, was it? Of what consequence was the woman's pride when the babe's life was in jeopardy? Was she listening to his hungry wails, her heart breaking as she watched him starve to death? I ran all these questions together even though this is not how it is presented in the book--but these questions are found within four consecutive pages. That's far too many. This particular book was littered with internal questions.  It kept pulling me, as a reader, out of the urgency of the situation by making me come up with answers. Reading shouldn't be a test.
The problem with posing questions is that as a writer, you've taken the situation and reduced it's urgency. You are now asking the reader to "fill in the blanks" and most likely the answers you are hoping for won't be the ones you actually get. 

Never underestimate the power of a STATEMENT. Every one of those questions could have been reworked and turned into  statement that would have been far more powerful than any question ever could be. AND readers gravitate to powerful writing as well as agents and editors (take a a look at Query Shark and her reactions to query letters that pose questions as a means to hook the reader--she's not too fond of them).

So if you think that by posing a question in your book description on Amazon will hook your readers into buying it, or if you think adding rhetorical questions in a query letter will lure the agent into requesting a partial, you may want to think again. I am only one person, but I know I'm not alone when I say, rhetorical questions don't hook me--they turn me off from what could very well be a wonderful story.

Also, check out your manuscript where your characters are posing internal questions (questions they are thinking but not speaking out loud) and read that section--most likely you will find that there is more power to the writing by simply removing them all together. If you feel the question is helpful or necessary, why not try reworking it into a statement:

He must win her love to save her life, but he will need to convince her that he's her one true love before it's too late.

Now that her mother knows her past, Clara is afraid her mother will reject her again.  

She hoped she'd have the ability to calm the babe despite knowing the other Puritan matrons could not. 
  
(Okay, these aren't the best rewritten, but bear with me. Hopefully you can see what I was trying for).

So, the next time you see a writer pose a question, or you're thinking of writing one, ask yourself: Did this question produce the response the writer was hoping for? Did the question add to the narrative or distract? <---These questions are for discussion purposes, which is the action I'm hoping for :) Tell me what you think. I'd love to know.

Angela Scott
The Reluctant Hook'er






8 comments:

Pam on October 5, 2011 at 6:43 AM said...

This is something I hadn't thought about before, but you are so right! Internal character questions bug me when I'm reading, so I avoid them in my fiction writing. But now I'm thinking back to whether I've ever used them in queries or a story synopsis. If I have, I never will again : )!

Marc Mattaliano on October 5, 2011 at 6:58 AM said...

I agree that too many questions in a synopsis or query letter doesn't tell nearly enough of the story to lure someone in. However, one at the end gives a bit of drive to a reader to find something out though, you don't think? You ask how much you know about a character to care, but how much bio do you want to offer for a synopsis of around 100 words? :-)

As for too many questions in a narrative, like most writing rules, it seems to come down to presentation. For instance:

1) 3rd person: A character is going through their fairly routine life and only moderate things come up that get them changing their ideas. Too many questions here is unnecessary. It just means the author is telling way too much about what they want the reader to think. Since their life is routine, statements work much better as it cuts out the questions and goes right for what the characters feel.

2) 1st person: Multiple characters have an immense amount of mystery laid on their shoulders all at once, people dying, mysticism from the skies, etc., all that fun stuff, maybe even a crisis. Especially from a 1st person stance, a few more questions here give us an idea of what priorities those characters have, how their thinking contrasts with what they sayand how they act around others, how ahead or behind the game they are, even glimpses into what their plans are if they have any.

Like most things in writing, questions are cool if they're effectively balanced with enough statements that the characters stand out next to each other. Also, it should be considered what kinds of questions they are.

Too many rhetorical questions at inappropriate moments is like, "well, if there's no answer, why bother asking?" One or two in a shot, where the character genuinely addresses how they feel and changes course in their thinking because of a question that SHOULDN'T be tough to answer?

Different story, ;-)

Ready, Aim, Hook Me on October 5, 2011 at 8:12 AM said...

Marc, posing questions isn't necessarily "wrong"--writers do it all the time. BUT, posing questions isn't nearly as powerful as making a statement. A question--whether at the beginning, end, or in the middle of the story or query letter or synopsis--will NEVER have that kind of power. It just won't.

Questions have a "telling" type of feel to them. They TELL me, as a reader, what I should be feeling, what the character is thinking, and what I should expect from the story.

It doesn't matter whether the writing is in first person or third person--questions should be avoided. SHOW me through their actions or what they say--that is far more powerful than having the character deliberate on the circumstance and the writer telling me what the character is thinking.

EXAMPLE: (setup--your female character is annoyed with her stupid boyfriend for bringing one of his buddies along on their date).

What was he thinking? Did he really believe I would like Danny tagging along to the movies with us? Well, he better think again. Where does he come up with these stupid ideas?

INSTEAD

She narrowed her eyes and shook her head at Ryan. "You're an idiot," she said. "I hope you and Danny have a great time at the movies together." She stepped to the curb, hailed a taxi, then turned to Ryan and flipped him the bird.

I know EXACTLY how she is feeling without the need of questions to tell me. I get it.

As writers, we tend to underestimate our readers ability to understand what it is we have written. We tend to force our vision on them. Readers aren't dumb. They will get it. We need to trust that.

For me, I wouldn't try to add a question to a query letter or synopsis, even at the end. Yes, we only have 100 words or so to attract an agent or editor, I get that. BUT I promise you, using a question as a hook will back fire. Agents do NOT like this. Most readers do NOT like this either. In essence, it's a novice kind of move--a trick, if you will. Agents and editors (and yes readers) will see through it.

You can use them, just be careful when you do.

~Angela Scott

Marc Mattaliano on October 5, 2011 at 8:48 AM said...

I have never written a query letter before, but I do fully agree, it could absolutely come off as a "trick" and be seen as cheap, :-) I still think in Synopses, they should be avoided but can included if presented in a really catchy way. There's always exceptions to rules, there's gotta be one to that, ;-)

But see, your two examples are utilzing different POVs, they can't be treated the same.

The first example is first person, meaning once the scene is effectively set and there's adequate mentions of what everyone is doing, it's deeper to go into detail what exactly they're thinking, especially if those thoughts manifest in different action later. The stupid boyfriend brought a buddy on the date, and the girl's pissed. She has all these thoughts and questions, but 1) does she express them outwardly? 2) if so, how does she express them outwardly? That short paragraph is really taken out of what should be a longer passage that includes the same action and descriptions seen in third person, but we don't see that here. In the next sentence, she might describe how she bites extra hard on the popcorn, stabs her steak right through the middle, and then punches her boyfriend in the arm while walking to the car. There's still room for action for a reader to decipher, but with first person, a reader gets the extra bonus of being in that character's head in real time! :-D You're right that too many quetsions does a lot to tell a reader what's in the mind of the character, but in first person, the reader's obligation to look deeper comes from examining all three (internal monologues, external dialogues and physical action) simultaneously, and it's equally the writer's obligation to present enough of all three so the reader has plenty to chew on. If a reader sees just one of those things, it will inevitably kill the story. But if all three battle each other to an extent (while staying somewhat consistent by a thread), much like conflicting news reports on TV about the same event, it can still make a character realistic and yet give a reader 3x as much to psychoanalyze when reading, ;-)

Your second example was third person, and although it accomplishes what it needs to (i.e. shows the girlfriend pissed and leaves somewhat ambiguous what she's exactly thinking), it's a different animal. In one of my latest WIPs, I'm taking a much more distanced stance on third person than I have, describing mainly what characters are doing as opposed to telling how they feel as I've done in the past. And I think it's working great, aside from being really fun to write! But like I said, the dynamic is different. Telling vs. Showing is said to distance the reader, but in my opinion, at least when it comes to first person, the reader gets far too distant when ONLY describing what they're doing. They become cold, they become robots, they're like animals at the zoo. They have no cognitive thoughts, they just do things and it's our JOB to tell what's going on beneath the surface. Hopefully what's Shown is compelling, ;-)

First vs. Third person POVs is a lot like comparing a philosopher to a behavioral psychologist. One deals mostly in ideas, feelings, opinions, morality, ethics, fairness, justice, faith, and all manner of concepts of such, while the other deals in picking apart the little things people do, anything from odd coping rituals to outlandish public outbursts, in an attempt to decipher what a character is feeling.

One is very internal, the other is very external, and neither is better than the other. Both can be done right if the proper balances offer enough clues, questions and answers to lure a reader in, :-D

Ready, Aim, Hook Me on October 5, 2011 at 10:37 AM said...

Oopps, your right. I switched POV--not good. So you caught me there.

How about this then (since I didn't realize I made that blunder):

I narrowed my eyes and shook my head at Ryan. "You're an idiot," I said. "I hope you and Danny have a great time at the movies together." I stepped to the curb, hailed a taxi, then turned to Ryan and flipped him the bird.

Still the same concept applies. I see her actions. I hear her words. This is far more powerful and engaging.

Again, this is a pet peeve of mine. If you like using questions to get inside the characters head, then do so. Do what works for you. make sure you read a lot of examples--ones with questions and ones without--and see which one speaks to you more.

Everyone is different. Every piece of writing should be tackled the same way. Just don't over do it to the point it loses its purpose.

~Angela Scott

Marc Mattaliano on October 5, 2011 at 11:19 AM said...

Agreed! And yes, that example is better, even kinda funny. Though honestly, I'd do both together!

The edited version made into first person is engaging because it shows action, and the original 3rd person version shows thought. Since the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it gives this girl additional character in the fact that she THOUGHT her anger toward her boyfriend and then acted on it, :-) If her thoughts had been largely timid and shy, then flipped him off, would've been a tad inconsistent and would've required thought to explain it (which isn't impossible, people change their minds all the time, doing both factors that in). If she had thought her anger and done nothing, it would have shown her to be more introverted than outward. Yet, if all we saw was her actions, it's more visual, so even though we're assuming she's angry by her actions, it's clearer why. For one thing, not everyone acts out very much and this isn't to say that an author can't write a character that's largely introverted, right? On the other hand, finding somewhat empty ways for a character to act simply to show anger for the sake of showing it can make a character lack thought. She's clearly mad at Ryan for going to the movie with Danny, but I have to believe she'd be thinking something while flipping him off. "Did I do the right thing?" "How's he going to feel tomorrow?" "Serves him right, jerkface." And it saves time forcing in additional scenes when that character's thought process might be adequate right there.

After all, if a story is first person, aren't we supposed to be acting as the person we're reading? We may not know everything about them, like the characters themselves do (for the most part), but those thoughts should be in our heads just as they're supposed to be in the characters' heads, :-)

You are absolutely spot-on when saying that actions are more powerful and engaging. But saying a person's thoughts out loud to ourselves while reading is, in essence, like a shrink telling a person to look at themselves in a mirror and reassure ourselves of things.

By simply saying them, we believe them, ;-)

*blush* Listen, thanks for letting me think out loud. Talking these things out helps me figure if these are really things I believe or just ideas that don't make sense. Really appreciate the conversation, and I hope I haven't been condescending, I did not mean to in the slightest, :-D

Nicole Pyles on October 5, 2011 at 3:50 PM said...

Honestly I haven't really thought of the question aspect. It does remind me of those cheesy cliff hangers that cartoon shows would end with...

Will Superman catch Lois Lane before the train comes? Find out next week!

Like you said, it doesn't say as much and it's a sign of immaturity to ask the reader a question. It takes them out of the world you have brought them into. Maybe as a question the character asks themselves, but that's it.

Lesli Muir Lytle on October 5, 2011 at 9:15 PM said...

Lots of internal narrative during a long chase seen. Will review and remove questions. This was very helpful.

Thank you!

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