See, I’ve been nose-to-the-windowpane with my characters and plot for a very long time, and it’s wrecked my vision. I can’t see the forest for the trees. And I’m not going to begin hacking away at my manuscript until my vision is 20/20.
Over the last few months I’ve had the uneasy feeling that something (many things) is not right with my book. That feeling has now become a fully-fledged certainty.
There are too many subplots, for one. It’s too long, for another. And for someone writing suspense, well, there’s just not enough of it. There are many reasons for this (being too long is definitely killing the suspense.) But I’ve decided my biggest problem is I’ve strayed a little too far from the parameters of the genre I’m trying to write, and this is not a good thing. It has to be fixed.
OK, yeah, I know this seems like I’m trying to write by formula. And it goes against one of the mantras repeated over and over to unpubbed writers - that what matters most is to write the story that is in you, crying to be let loose on the page. Whatever form or shape that story may take.
Now, there’s something in that. There’s no point pushing yourself to write something you don’t have a passion for – or at least a deep interest in – because your lack of enthusiasm and engagement will show through in the form of a flat, uninteresting, forced story, and you’ll be busted as a fake.
But passion is not the be all and end all. It’s only one of the necessary elements in the alchemy of producing a great, saleable, story. Writing damn well is another obvious element; and if you want to give yourself the best chance of snagging an agent and being published, I’d argue you can’t ignore the wisdom of writing pretty close to the parameters of your genre. At least with the first book you shop.
Why? Well, writing to genre makes your book so much easier for an agent to say yes to. They know the exact nature of the product they will then be flogging to a publishing house. No head scratching, no heart palpitations. And having a book that fits within a genre makes it much easier for a publisher to say yes. Publishers know that the vast majority of the book-buying public are creatures of habit. We like to know what we’re in for when we take a book home – romance, thriller, mystery, crime, chick-lit. Something that crosses over many, many genres … well, the “what’s this about” is going to be harder to convey on the blurb or the cover flap or the book review. That won’t make it impossible sell, but it will be harder. Especially if you’re a new, untested, author.
Now, I’m not saying you should avoid mixing genres at all cost. If that were the case, how boring would the book world be? It’s more that you should be aware of what your primary genre is, and try and make sure it gets the attention in your WIP that it deserves to ensure you give yourself the best shot at being published.
So, if you’ve written a multi-genre opus, do you slit your wrists now? No. Have another look at what you’ve got. Sure as eggs there will be one, maybe two, genres, which stand out above the others. See if there are ways to make them the focus, without compromising your story. (In fact, I’d bet the tighter you focus on them, the tighter your story will be …)
Of course, there are always exceptions to this norm. But not often, and especially not for newbie authors.
Anyway … what was my point? Oh yeah. In all my uncertainty about my book, I do know I’m writing suspense. True, I’m also writing historical fiction, but that does take a slight back seat to the suspense. And so, to help me pin point those places where I’ve gone wrong – and more importantly, how to fix them! - I’ve been boning up on the elements of suspense, its parameters and variations, in the hope that I’ll see where I’ve gone too far from the genre’s expectations.
Where I should have taken a left turn at Albuquerque, instead of taking a right.
So, what makes a book a "novel of suspense"? How does suspense differ from its close cousins, mysteries and thrillers? Because there are differences, and they are important to know…
But not now. That’s for next week.
(Heh. How’s that for a little suspense?)