Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thrillers? Not so fast

So many people have been grabbed by the shirt collar by movies like "Die Hard." It's non-stop action, and Bruce Willis' character is always ready for the next fight. Such is the thriller genre. I thought my novel fit into that category. The simple truth is, it doesn't.

I came to that realization recently thanks to agent Donald Maass. I sent Maass a query, and I billed my novel as a thriller. Well, it has several aspects of a thriller so why not? My problem is that the genre requires much tighter guidelines than I want to follow. It isn't that I am a rebel. I just want to create a character with far more depth than the "Die Hard" profile. Sure, there are plenty of yippee-ki-yay moments, but there's much more.

Maass replied that my first chapter didn't hook him and pull him from page to page as a good thriller should. Coming from any other agent, I would take it as good advice and nothing more. Maass is the master teacher among agents, so I look at his words differently.

Am I reworking my material to fit the genre? I could, but I won't. I want a protagonist with flaws, failures, hopes, dreams -- the stuff of a real life. I am taking a step back and recognizing that my novel needs to slip into that catch-all category of commercial fiction. I don't want to be as ponderous as literary fiction, but I don't want it to be as thin as the standard thriller. So, I will hang out here and sharpen my focus.

I will have more help from Maass in the near future. I am attending his writers workshop in a few weeks. I have attended sessions with Maass at writers conferences, and he is a wealth of great lessons. Now I get to receive that training face to face for an entire week. How nice is that?

WHAT AM I READING NOW: "The Drop" by Michael Connelly. I love Connelly's smooth delivery, and I love the Harry Bosch character. That's a great combination for any reader.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blame (Bless) James Scott Bell

Yes, that is a three-month gap since my last blog entry. Funny how time flies when you're tearing apart a novel. And, yes, I do blame James Scott Bell, whose Ten Commandments for Authors put me on my current route. OK, "blame" is inaccurate. "Bless" works better.

Bell's exact words that triggered this? They are contained in the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt make everything contribute to the story." His statement is simply: "Stay as direct as a laser beam."

The problem with my second draft was that it didn't have that laser-like quality. Oh, yes, there is a main storyline, but it is surrounded by lots of little side trips. I had secondary characters who became primary characters far too often. It was like getting on an expressway intending to go from Orlando to Tampa but taking dozens of auxiliary roads during the journey.

So, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I tore out entire sections. I inserted new ones. What was the result? I had the same word count, about 101,000. Worse than anything else, I had the same problem. I substituted auxiliary roads with new auxiliary roads.

I am now in the middle of revising again. I am canceling those side trips. I am leaving secondary characters on the cutting room floor, and some pretty harrowing scenes in the process. Such is life when you are trying to follow a laser beam.

There is one other issue I am working on, and that is the genre in which I was working. I will discuss that in my next blog entry. I promise it won't take me three months to write here again.