It seems I’m destined to have a very important lesson crammed back into my head and I might as well accept this and move forward with learning it.
Almost 20 years ago now, my first agent taught me how to write a book proposal. In retrospect I couldn’t have bought the kind of education she passed along but nobody said it came easy. I would write a proposal draft, she would critique it and return it. I would rewrite the entire damn thing, she would critique it, return it and I’d start all over again.
I can still remember the day I got her letter (this was before email) telling me, “Now we have something I can sell.”
I have no idea what she saw in my writing but we worked for the better part of 2 years in order to get me into the groove. (Before you ask me why it took so long, let me point out I had a nursery to run, four kids to raise and I wrote for an hour before work every day to figure out this “writing stuff”.)
The lesson burnt into my writer’s brain was that I had to use a rifle instead of a shotgun when it came to writing. The finer tuned I could make the subject, the better. It wasn’t so much as a brain-dump, it was about meeting specific reader needs in as tight a way as possible.
And What’s That Got To Do With Anything Now?
I received the initial report on my fiction proposal and got high marks for the contextual analysis I created. In other words, I had create a great background and situation for a story.
But I needed to hone in on the story. I needed to get a lot more specific about what was going to actually happen in the book – what the specific objectives were for each character. It’s like saying, “I’m going to have a date with a woman” instead of saying, “I’m going to ask Mayo out to dinner” The first is the context and the second is the specific action. Stories are about specific actions and I hadn’t quite got that message completely down on paper.
It was a repeat of that all-important first lesson. I needed to get quite specific in my story-line, I needed to focus in on the important actions.
And with any luck, it won’t take me two years to get the message this time.