Good afternoon, Parvus People!
Summer is coming to a close faster than any of us would like. With July in the rear view, we are in the tail end of the dog days of summer. Before you know it, school will be in session once more, the ice cream shops will be closing up for the cold months, and the Parvus Hive Mind will be power-loading on protein in order to thicken our chitin shells for the coming winter. Before that, though, we’re going to need some juicy manuscripts to
Right now, the Parvus Hive Mind is offering to read your 2016 Summer Writing Camp manuscripts and provide notes. We will take manuscripts until our
larders schedules are full and will provide each and every writer who sends in a manuscript with feedback from our publishing team. Right now, we think that’s around 30 manuscripts.
What kind of notes can you expect? Notes on plot, pacing, characters, dialogue, etc. If you have specific questions about your manuscript, we’ll even try and answer those too! So, send us your novels, give us sixty days, and we’ll get you some feedback. Rough drafts are welcome! Incomplete manuscripts are welcome! We are NOT evaluating these for publication.
Why are we doing this, if not to find manuscripts to publish? Primarily, we want to support the brilliant community of writers who participate in these summer writing camps, because we know how much effort it takes. We want to help you keep up your momentum and finish your novels. Second, we’re the new kid in town and not a lot of folks really know what kind of book is a Parvus book. We see this as a great opportunity to let the writing community get to know us and what we look for in a killer manuscript.
Grab that summer manuscript while it’s still hot and head on over to www.ParvusPress.com/camp today. We’d love to read your work and offer our feedback.
Happy Monday, Parvus People, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you celebrating this week. Being in the storytelling business, we’re big fans of the blarney.
Before we get into submission lessons, if you haven’t seen it already, you should check this week’s Blog Post of our compatriot and Consulting Editor, John Adamus. John talks about showing vs. telling (Something that you’re probably reading about by now) but he does it with stripper metaphors: John’s Blog. I know you folks are tired of seeing “show vs. tell”, but it’s a skill that is still underdeveloped in a lot of the submissions we receive.
Our focus this week, fair friends, is going to be on how to make your job as a novelist harder. It appears to be a topic that many of you are interested in! So, without any further delay, let’s dig in.
The easiest way to make your job harder is to decide that it’s not enough to JUST be a novelist. You should also be a poet, or lyricist, or short story writer. It is common in fantasy novels (and marginally less so in sci-fi) to include an epigraph at the opening of a chapter. This is sometimes a quote from some fictional wise man in your universe, recalling a quote from a major character in an early chapter (A technique we love when used well), or even a bit of poetry.
I implore you, dear writer. If you are not a poet, do not include poetry in your novel. Most novel readers do not read poetry. Most novelists do not write poetry. When a person who Is not accustomed to interpreting poetry reads less-than-stellar poetry, it’s a disaster for both reader and writer alike.
If you must include poems in your novel, find a poet and ask them to write them for you. The same goes for songs. Find a songwriter, give them the rough sketch of your idea, and trust them to write the lyrics for you.
But, should you want to make your job harder, feel free to try to learn to write effective poetry while you are working your way through a 100,000 word manuscript.
What about short stories? The skills are more closely related; so what’s so bad about including a short story in your novel? Again, it’s about reader expectations. A reader picking up a novel is not expecting to find short stories peppered throughout. If they did, they’d pick up a collection of short stories.
Novels are full of side stories, vignettes, flashbacks, etc. that are mostly self-contained bubbles of story hanging off the main host, but they are not entirely self-contained. They must attach to the main story, either by way of a character weaving the telling of the story into the main through line of their arc, by ending without fully resolving their small plot (because the resolution of said plot is part of the larger story arc), or by some other means.
A short story is a fully self-contained tale with a beginning, middle, and end. If you absolutely must include something of this nature into your novel for reasons that don’t immediately leap to mind, have a character deliver it to us in a first person narrative. Have them relate the events that occurred to them. In this way, at least, you are weaving the short story into the larger narrative.
Or, you can choose to make your job as a novelist impossible by peppering your novel with short stories. Not only will you give your reader a jarring experience and break the spell of the narrative, but you will have the joy of forcing yourself to excel in two very different writing styles just to be considered adequate overall.
If you’re writing a novel, friends, just write a novel. Don’t compound the monumentally difficult task in front of you by attempting to master multiple different styles of writing and story composition in the same work. Give me a complex narrative full of foreshadowing, mirroring, allegory, callbacks and rich characterization. Isn’t that enough of a challenge for you?
Before we begin this week’s blog post, let me give you a little background information that will help you understand our perspective on prologues. 28% of the submissions we receive have prologues. The vast majority of those, 75% are fantasy. 25% of those books with prologues are science fiction.
Of the books that did not have prologues, there isn’t a single one that I read and thought “You know what would make this better? A prologue”.
Of the books that DID have prologues, nearly all of them suffered from the weight of the prologue holding the story back.
So, this week’s discussion is going to center on prologues and why you probably shouldn’t include one in your manuscript. I’d like to focus on what a prologue needs to accomplish in order to justify its existence.
A prologue sets up the reader to enjoy your story. It whets the appetite for the main course. Many people will advise you that the prologue establishes the world or setting. While it MAY do that, that is simply one function a prologue can perform. It is not the reason for the prologue to exist. The prologue makes promises to the reader. It tells them that, if they’re patient, the story will reward them with awe and beauty. And it hooks the reader with a question.
Look at one of the single most effective prologues in modern novels; George R. R. Martin’s prologue to A Game of Thrones. Spoilers (of the prologue only) follow:
What happens in this prologue? Martin introduces us to three characters – two of whom are dead by the end of the prologue and the third of whom dies shortly thereafter. He introduces us to the cold, icy setting of the world north of the wall; but it’s a bare bit of forest of no particular import. We are barely introduced to the Night’s Watch and the idea of the wildlings.
None of these things are really all that important. None of these really serve as an introduction to the world or the setting, as most people believe a prologue should. But, at the end, we see the Others, The White Walkers. We see these other-worldly, clearly magical villains and we watch them kill a member of the Watch, who then rises as a lich to kill his former companion.
THAT bit there is the important part of this prologue. Martin is telling us that there is magic in this world; evil, dark magic. He is telling us that there is an ancient enemy who swells its ranks as you try and fight it by raising the dead. He does this because the next chapter shifts us to Winterfell, a thoroughly unmagical place. In fact, there is very little magic observed in most of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire.
The prologue was a promise to fantasy readers that while most of the books were about the machinations and politics of Martin’s richly detailed world, there was also magic pulsing in the background. It would be important, but it wasn’t going to be available as a tool for our heroes to Deus ex Machina themselves out of every jam.
And it gave us the question – Who are these Others? When will the rest of the world get wise to the danger they pose? This would be a background question for the reader to keep in their mind as they watched the game of thrones unfold. It’s a question that maintains tension throughout the novels; why is it important which Baratheon boy holds the throne when the real threat is an army of the undead coming from the north?
That, my friends, is what your prologue should do. It should leave the readers with a question that will lurk on the edges of the key scenes in your novel. It should promise something to them and keep them reading. Here’s the secret that a good prologue hides; Make the readers the promise of danger, excitement, or thrills and they will grant you an entire chapter one to set up the world.
The prologue buys you the time (and credibility) to deliver the exposition you need. If you’re putting that exposition in the prologue before hitting the reader with an exciting Chapter 1, you’ve gotten it backwards and they won’t even make it that far.
So; take another look at your prologue. Is there action, tension, and mystery? If not, dump it immediately. It’s an anchor you’re asking the rest of the book to carry around. Look at your chapter one; does it contain all the elements of your story in microcosm? Does it have momentum? Does it compel the story forward? If so, you probably don’t need your prologue.
My perspective on prologues in manuscripts is this: If the book opens with a compelling chapter one and keeps my interest moving through, I may find myself thinking “Great book. Could be better with a prologue to set up mid-point events. Should talk to the editor about that.” However, if I’m reading a prologue that is dragging me down with exposition or that seems wholly disconnected from Chapter One, I won’t have faith that the writer is skilled enough to make the rest of the manuscript worth reading.
At the end of the day, that’s the most important promise that your book’s opening makes, whether it’s a prologue of a plain old chapter one, you are promising the reader that you are skilled enough to have crafted an enjoyable story. You are promising the reader that you are worth their time.
Unless you’re certain that you’ve got a killer prologue, dump it before it kills your novel.
Hello, Parvus People! Firstly, we must thank you for another week of solid submissions. You’re making our job of selecting our debut acquisitions incredibly difficult. We hope to have some announcements on that front by the end of March, though, so keep an eye on your social media feeds!
This week, I’d like to continue our post series on feedback from the submission pool by focusing on characterization. One of the biggest challenges in writing is developing the skill to write fully realized, three dimensional, believable characters that are different from yourself. If you’re a nice, easy-going, gregarious person, it may be a real difficulty for you to write a believable villain who shares none of those traits.
The response to our first call for submissions has been excellent so far. We were incredibly impressed with the quality of manuscripts submitted and that just goes to reinforce our decision to launch Parvus Press. There are some amazing stories out there, sitting on hard drives and ready for a publisher to put some muscle behind them.
As we’ve read through the submissions, we noticed a few common areas for improvement and I thought we should share them out for everyone’s benefit.