Thursday, March 06, 2008

Angie Fox: Three Things I Had to Do in Order to Sell

It’s so hard being “almost there” with a story. You love your work, you’re getting positive rejections, so what does it take to sell? For me, it was all about making the story bigger. And, I know, you’re saying you’ve heard it before. So did I. But I didn’t know what it meant. I had to push my writing to a level I had never gone to before, but I found three things were the key:

The “No Way” Factor
My characters had to take bigger chances, have more to risk and lose. It’s easy to say, but a hard thing for a writer to do. It’s a vulnerable, risky place to be. I knew my story was big enough to sell when instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, “I hope that’s good enough to impress an editor,” I ended them thinking, “No. I did not just write that. I did not just make my character defend herself with a toilet brush and a can of Purple Prairie Clover air freshener.”

The “Brainstorm” Factor
The first thing you think of might be good, but chances are the twentieth thing will be even better. When I was trying to think of a hidden hideout for my biker witch characters, the first idea that popped into my head was an abandoned biker bar. Kind of neat, right? Instead of going with it, I sat down and brainstormed twenty ideas. The first five or so come easy. The rest really make you stretch and think. One of those twenty ideas became a fun, quirky hideout for my witches – an abandoned riverboat that they’d enchanted years earlier (while drunk on dandelion wine). Now they not only need a safe place, but they need to catch the Choking spells, Lose Your Keys spells, not to mention the Frozen Underwear spells ready to attack from around corners and behind the old jukebox.

The “Surprise” Factor
Follow your story in new directions, because if you’re enjoying the surprise, chances are your readers will too. When I sat down to write my book, I had no notes about a sidekick for my heroine. But in the second chapter, when she’d learned she was a demon slayer and all hell was after her, she took comfort in her dog. As I was writing, I thought, "This is a sweet moment. Now how do I throw her off?" Simple. I made the dog say something to her. Nothing big. After all, he’s only after the fettuccine from last week. And he knows exactly where my heroine can find it (back of the fridge, to the left of the lettuce crisper, behind the mustard). It amused me, so I did it. Thanks to her unholy powers, my heroine can now understand her smart-mouthed Jack Russell Terrier. I had fun with it. In fact, I suspect Pirate the dog is my editor’s favorite character. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if Pirate helped talk my editor into buying The Accidental Demon Slayer.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is – make your writing an adventure. Don’t be afraid to step out, take risks and push your story to the next level.

Angie Fox is the author of The Accidental Demon Slayer, coming from Dorchester this summer. Visit her at www.angiefox.com.

30 comments:

Chessie said...

Congratulations on your upcoming release, Angie. The book is hysterical. It's going to be a real fun summer read.

Kim Lenox said...

Angie, your book sounds fantastic!! What great humor! Frozen panty spells!! Woo hoo!

Angie Fox said...

Thanks. The paranormal market is hot right now, but you have to make your work stand out in order to make that first sale. Worldbuilding is key and I hope what worked for me will work for other writers too.

Shell said...

Many thanks for this very helpful post. As a newbie, I appreciated the advice.

Josephine Damian said...

Angie, the process you follow very much echoes the advice uber agent Donald Maass gives in his "Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook."

So many books I've stopped reading had ordinary, mundane characters in ordinary, mundane situations, and they made ordinary, mundane decisions. Bor- ing! You've got to raise the stakes, and make it entertaining. Sounds like you have.

Good luck with your new release!

Mark Terry said...

Excellent advice and I think I'll follow all of it.

I would add one thing. I'm not 100% sure writers need to be fully conscious of this, but maybe.

Where's the conflict?

Usually aspiring writers have a good idea of what their basic conflict is. Their main character is trying to solve some problem, ergo, conflict.

But more successful fiction has a lot more conflict from a lot more areas.

The character may be ambivalent about what they're doing or who they are. (Like, I'm a demon slayer. That means what? Are you crazy? Aren't they going to try and kill me? Aren't I, like, outnumbered?)

I've often considered Michael Connelly's bestselling Harry Bosch novels as a great example of conflict, because Harry, just by his nature, carries conflict with him wherever he goes. Has baggage, will travel. So he rarely gets along with his partner, his boss, his neighbors, his lovers, his ex-wife...

Make the weather a conflict. Give your character a bad cold in the middle of having to do something, save the world, whatever. Just pour on the miseries.

Or, if you're writing something lighthearted, make sure there's still lots of conflict. Go watch the TV shows "Monk" or "PSyche" and see how those writers create conflict in funny, silly situations.

Angie Fox said...

Thanks, Josephine. I think most authors have been forced to come to similar realizations about their work. We’ve all had the “ah-hah” moment in different ways, but yes, these techniques are universal. I’d heard them before I actually learned how to put them into practice. That’s the key. For years, I thought I was doing this and I wasn’t.

I didn’t realize how important it was to push myself to the point where I feel that “What did I just write?” discomfort. Because, hopefully, that means there's something unique on the page. And this isn’t only true for the kind of quirky paranormals I write. Authors who write dark use these techniques too. It’s not about the kind of story you’re crafting. It’s about pushing that story and the characters harder.

Angie Fox said...

Mark brings up an excellent point. Conflict is key – both internal and external conflict. It’s not just about the outward challenges of the story, i.e. what is happening “to” the hero/heroine. Rather, it’s about their personal struggles too. You’ll want the events of the story to challenge your main characters on several levels.

And Mark guessed it 100% right about The Accidental Demon Slayer. Yes demons are after her, but you can’t leave it at that. What makes it unique? Okay, there’s a hot shapeshifting griffin that has his own agenda. Okay. What else? To draw more conflict, I made my heroine a preschool teacher who would really rather be left alone. Her whole life, she’s been the good girl who doesn’t like to cause trouble. Now, she can’t avoid it. She’s been forced to take off with a bunch of geriatric biker witches. Worse, she has no idea how to best use her powers or what she’s capable of doing. So it’s not just about her life being in danger, but we’re challenging her entire world view.

Really stick it to your characters. Make the good things about them, the things we like, become liabilities. That challenges a reader, and the character. Like when the griffin in my story agrees to help our budding demon slayer and we think she’ll finally catch a break. There’s conflict because we know he’ll want payback later, but we’re happy that she’s finally going to reach one of her goals – until the hero tricks her and ties her to a tree. Always look for ways to challenge your characters in their beliefs and about who they are.

And don’t forget about you secondary characters, either. My biker witches have their own story arcs as a result of what happens in the story. Conflict challenges characters and often changes them – for better or worse - and that is always interesting.

Joya said...

This was such a helpful post, and your book sounds so awesome! There's another novel I need to add to my 'must read' list! :)

- Joya M.

jjdebenedictis said...

This is an enormously helpful post! Thanks, Ms. Fox, for spelling it out so clearly and well, and thank you BookEnds, for posting it!

150 said...

Geriatric biker witches! Yeah, you just sold me your book. :)

My motto for my current WIP has been "THINK BIGGER," and this plays directly into that. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Most informative, thank you.

-Rachel Glass

Diana said...

Angie, I'm not a paranormal book reader, never have been, but I can't stop thinking about the frozen underwear spell! That's hysterical : )

Kristin said...

Yes, thanks so much for this great post. I especially like the part about brainstorming and not going with your first thought. GREAT advice.

Wordsmith said...

Angie, you've become my must-have summer book buy. I can't wait to read it! It sounds like a hoot. I love the riverboat idea. And I think you're so right on in your advice. And you phrased it in a way that makes me itch to get back to my story. Which is a rare talent.

Most writing teachers I've had seem to have a knack for phrasing their advice in such a way that it leaves you considering donating your laptop to Goodwill and never writing again. It's like their mission in life is to suck all the joy out of writing.

And here you come along with advice that puts the joy back in. What a treat! Count me among the pre-orders.

Anonymous said...

That is the most helpful thing I have read in a long time. Every day I go online searching for something that will give me answers and inspire me to be a better writer. Thank you Angie Fox! I feel like you just let me in on a secret. :)
Chris

Christie Craig said...

Great advice, Angie.

I can't wait until your book is out.

CC

Angie Fox said...

Oh wow - thanks for the positive feedback. I'm really glad to hear this is helping. We writers have to stick together. :)

Chris Redding said...

I think the fun in writing is taking it to a higher level. April Kihlstrom in her Book in a Week lectures talks about throwing in the kitchen sink.
Make it bigger works just as well.
And Angie, your book sounds like a hoot.
cmr

Diana said...

Congratulations on the upcoming book! I will keep an eye out for it this summer!

I really appreciate your topic. While writing, I sometimes wonder if I have made the manuscript surprising enough. I will hold on to your advice!

Maria Zannini said...

Okay, you had me at the dog! The toilet brush was just icing on the cake. I will definitely look for your book.

Congrats!

Keira said...

Angie, thanks so much for this post. I'm working on a paranormal now. I must put your book in my Outlook calendar with a reminder so I can pick it up when it comes out.

Kate said...

Very good post! I agree!

I also find that sinking a few JD & Cokes does wonders for letting down your barriers and making you go that extra step!

val said...

Great 1st chapter, Angie, and thanks for sharing both the chapter and the advice.

Things to add to my list:
1) Buy your book this August.
2) Post your advice over my computer today.
3) Write more--right now!!!

Maya said...

Great advice! I myself have been mulling over how to get that extra "oomph" that will sail me into published land, and I think your three points are excellent ways to get there. Now I just have to follow said advice (not easy).

Thank you!!!

keri mikulski :) said...

I love this post! Great advice..

Tina M. Russo said...

This is a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing and congrats on your success.

Cher'ley said...

Hi,
I don't know how I got here, followed a link from somewhere, but I'm glad I'm here.
Great advice and you have some great comments as well.
I just finished my novel and I'm struggling with the revision process.

I'm not into books other than mystery but I'm looking forward to yours. Sounds so funny.
Thanks,
Cher'ley
http://cherley.webs.com/index.htm

Sandra Parshall said...

Pirate the dog is my favorite character too, Angie. I loved him -- wouldn't want to have him for my very own, but I loved him. Your writing is terrific and I hope your book is a huge success.

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