Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fixing What You Didn't Know Was Broken

How do you fix what you didn't know was broken?  Sure, other people can point out it's broken, but until you see it for yourself, you still don't believe it. 

Case in point...

I took some interesting criticism during my Secret Agent Contest entry last week.  For now, we'll dismiss the obviously out there and address the two key points that seemed to be a running theme.

Point 1)  From the first 250 words, it sounds like YA.

I don't see it.  Sure, it starts on Jo's 18th birthday and she's a little immature (naturally), but this is the key focal point upon which rests the book - and the whole series if the other books ever see the light of day.   For me, the reader needs to see where she was to understand where's she's gotten and why she reacts the way she does to the events that unfold. 

Point 2)  I started in the wrong place.

This one, I can kinda see.  I'm notorious for starting in the wrong place anyway, so it's not surprising that I get this criticism again.  How do you know what the right place is?  I'm damned if I know because I've actually started this book in several different places and this one feels the most right.

Of course, it could be that I just need to shuffle a few things around in those 250 words to make it have more impact.  Which I will look into.  But ugh, I hate the thought of touching this manuscript again.  If I had a nickle for every word I've rewritten on this thing, I could afford to self-publish.  LOL

Of course, of course, it also could be that it's fine and those critters just needed to keep reading to see how awesome the beginning was.

But I doubt that's the case.

What about you?  How good are you at recognizing when something is broken?  When someone else points it out, are you all like 'well, duh, why didn't I see that' or are you more like 'what are you talking about... there's nothing wrong there.'?

And in case you missed it, Silver James wrote an awesome post over at The Unpublished Writers' Guide to Survival yesterday.  Go forth and read - after you comment here, of course.


  1. To be honest... I sort of agree with a majority of those comments. I felt a YA vibe from those first 250 words as well. This is meant to be a "looking back" to where everything began, right? But her voice is still a bit YA, even though she's supposed to be telling us what happened from her future self. I could be wrong there, because the version I read of Djinnocide started somewhere else.

    As for the second point, I agree that it starts in the wrong place. I would almost start the story with action (in the version I read, she was going to a warehouse (I believe)). You could start the story with a bang, then have the next chapter start with her bringing in a bit of backstory, that way we're introduced to Jo and the world a bit first, then we're given some history. They do this in movies all the time, where they have a big opening and then they show how they got there. *shrugs*

    I do believe their comments about marriageability were ridiculous. They clearly do not know their history and were just spouting out random (and incorrect) information.

    I also love the voice you do have here. She's very chatty, and although it comes across as a bit young, I think if you start with Jo as she is now, we'll already be accustomed to her style. =)

  2. After reading the opening, I can see how people got the YA feel. I don't think you need it.

    Start with the inciting moment. Is it the package? Or her birthday party? Or something that happens later?

    You don't need to tell the reader her back story or why she acts the way she does IF you show it inside the narrative as she's going through the story itself.

    My guess is if you've probably looked at this so long you've become attached to the opening. Give yourself some distance and time. Read other books in your genre with snappy openings. I'm willing to bet you'll notice what you need to edit after a vacation from the story.

  3. See...I thought it was okay. But I guess that's not a good thing because it was "okay." I'll have to think on this. Given the whole YA/NA genres, I can see why people might try to lump Djinnocide there. I'll need to go back and reread the opening again when I get some free time. I agree with Maria. Put it aside for a bit, think about other projects then come back with new eyes in a little while. We'll talk. :)

  4. I don't think it has a YA voice. People may not understand that urban fantasy usually has a chatty voice. Who wants to be all stuffy when writing UF? It's supposed to be light and fun.

    I will say the package line drew me in, so if you're going to rearrange, maybe something like "I was planning my next big party when the package came in, with a stamp from Constantinople. From my thief father most likely, though I doubt he was still even there..." That's rough, but you get the general gist. A sprinkle of personality, mystery, and family drama from your first couple paragraphs compacted into a couple lines to kick things off.

    I think the voice is strong, and I love the 1920s beginning, so I wouldn't panic and think some major rewrite is needed. I don't think it's the wrong beginning, just rearrange a little maybe like you said?

    I will say for comfort purposes that some of the people that comment on the Secret Agent contest over at MSFV are not always the nicest/most constructive. I have very thick skin and actually really enjoy getting feedback, but I did Secret Agent over there a couple years ago and got fairly vexed by the whole thing. That hasn't happened to me ever for any other contest, and as you know, I've been in a ton! They get a lemming effect going big time and a lot of people just regurgitate the previous comments. Anyways, just putting that out there :)

  5. My first reaction tends to be "what are you talking about?" followed hours later by "duh, why didn't I see that?"