The Amazon/CreateSpace deadline looms, and I’m still polishing the manuscript and crafting a pitch. This past Sunday, in my writing blog, I detailed the “winnowing” that takes place during the five months of the contest. If that process interests you, please click here.
Today, I’m updating you on how I’m proceeding toward the entry gate of January 14 from my late start on Wednesday January 2.
Because I hadn’t read the manuscript for many months, I remembered only its highlights and the story’s thrust. Given that, writing the pitch immediately would have been best. Why? Because a pitch isn’t a synopsis. It’s the trail of delicious tidbits that capture the browser’s attention, luring her or him into reading a book.
Instead of starting the pitch immediately, however, I began to polish the manuscript by ruthlessly scouring it for descriptions and dialogue that delayed the forward thrust of the story. Unfortunately, that work ensnared me in the manuscript’s intricacies.
A week has passed, and I’m two-thirds of the way through the manuscript’s forty-nine chapters. It was 494 pages long; now it’s 475. It was 130,979 words long. Now it’s 123,050. Given that, I may be able to get it down to 120,000 by the 12:00:01 U.S.EST entry opening on January 14.
The problem now is that having immersed myself in the manuscript, I’m unable to see the forest for the trees. So when I began writing my 300-word pitch this past Monday, I ended up with a synopsis.
I sent that pitch to two friends—one who’s read the manuscript and one who’s an accomplished novelist. Last night the latter e-mailed me the following:
There are so many names, so much going on, I don't know what the story is about. Is Ephraim your main character? A Pharisaic scribe is confusing. Who is Hashem, the Holy One? Then comes Daniel and someone who wades in the Jordan. Now Herod Antipas. The Galilee and the exorcist Yeshua. Too much for a pitch.
Try this. Who is your central character? Write about him. Try the old “who, what, when, where, why” to settle your thinking. What is the conflict that he's engaged in without getting into all the characters. . . . The pitch as it now stands is too scrupulous. It tells everything. If you have a chance, get in the mood by reading dust-jacket copy of a few novels. Tease the reader into wanting to read your novel.
As a suggestion, introduce your character in the first sentence. Begin the second sentence with "but," which will state the conflict.
What’s clear from this is that my first friend and myself are too close to the action/story/plot of the novel. I need to back away and remember what prompted its birth. Here’s what I mean by that: In a novelist’s mind, a story usually begins with a simple question about a character, a setting, or an event. For instance: “What happens when an envious man, who collects women as trophies, discovers his best friend has committed adultery?”
Given that one line, a novelist can craft compelling fiction.
Or a novelist might ask, “What are the consequences of letting others define us?”
Or “If the polar ice cap melts and the ocean level along the Atlantic Seaboard rises, how far will insurance companies go to make a profit?”
Consider the tale of “Hansel and Gretel,”
as illustrated by Arthur Rackham in this 1909 cover.
What question might have prompted the telling of this classic folk tale?
The writer who sent the above e-mail got through two of the five eliminations in the 2010 Amazon/CreateSpace contest. Because of that and because he’s had more than ten books published, I take his comments seriously. So today, I’m back at the computer, trying to remember what question prompted me to begin this manuscript thirteen years ago.
As I write, I’ll remember what Yoda said in Episode V of Star Wars: “No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
The writing friend who’d read the manuscript e-mailed me an article last night on writing query letters, which are pitches to agents. If you’d like to read its short six-point suggestions, click here.
As soon as I post these words today, I begin to work on crafting an enticing pitch. Contentment camps around me because I’m getting to do my most favorite activity—writing. I hope your day is also a contented one. Peace.
Postscript: Many of you left comments here last Wednesday and on my other blog this past Sunday assuring me of your good wishes. So please don’t feel that you need to comment again if time is precious today. Just know that I can feel your good wishes and thoughts, prayers and visualizations. Thank you for them, ever and always.
Photograph Rackham cover from Wikipedia