Friday, June 24, 2011

If AMC’s “The Killing” Was a Book

I finished Season 1 of The Killing earlier this week. Courtesy of my DVR, I was able to watch it when I wanted rather than when it officially aired. By the time I saw it, I’d heard a slew of the complaints from the people who watched it live before.

That surprised me, but only because the people were disappointed to begin with. About halfway through the season, I realized the series was going to be a letdown. The only reason I finished was because I’d already spent a lot of time following the fictional murder and I wanted to see how it played out.

I won’t give away the ending because some people may want to watch the series, but I will say that it was less than spectacular. Waaaay less than spectacular. Below mediocre.

And that got me thinking: what if “The Killing” was a book? How would that have changed the series?

Lot’s of ways. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the series, it’s the investigation of a teenage girl’s death. Pretty much the first half of an episode of “Law and Order,” but dragged over 13 hour-long episodes.

I think a book editor (or agent) would have insisted on a lot of edits if this was a book a client was pitching to them. First, it’s too long, like a 150,000 word cozy romance. There are plenty of ways to make it shorter, namely by cutting a lot of the extraneous scenes and subplots that added nothing to the main story and made the characters less likeable.

Secondly, character motivations are never explained. There are logic leaps that no agent or editor would allow. The main character is a detective who is supposed to leave to be with her fiancĂ© the day of the murder. Instead, she sticks around for 13 days with no reasonable explanation as to why she doesn’t depart.

The characters are terrible. Most start out likeable enough or at the least have understandable motivations. Each of the unneeded subplots provides information about the characters that makes them more annoying. By the end, the character I liked best was the dead girl, probably because she didn’t have any lines.

Which was another thing – the dialogue was atrocious, particularly between the two detectives handling the case. One was childish and immature while the other was rude, bossy, and condescending. That’s another thing an agent/editor would have corrected.

The last and biggest change an agent/editor would have made would be the ending. I can understand why “The Killing” ended the way it did. TV shows rely on cliffhangers to build interest. A lot of book series do too. But it’s not necessary. Want a series that solved a mystery each season without getting bogged down in unnecessary subplots: Veronica Mars. It can be done. “The Killing” failed miserably in its promise to reveal who did the killing.

Basically, the only thing I think an agent or editor would have kept is the main plot. And with all the rewrites necessary, they wouldn’t have allowed “The Killing” to reach publication the way it reached TV.

Maybe I’m spoiled by reading good books with solid plots that have been carefully edited. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I think TV shows could be better. “The Killing” is just the latest example.

Contest: Birthday Blowout First Page Contest with Victoria Marini

Shelley Watters is hosting a Birthday Blowout First Page Contest with Victoria Marini on her blog http://shelleywatters.blogspot.com.

Want to participate and get loads of great feedback? Sign up at Shelley's blog and post the first 250 words on your blog on June 25th. Then get other people's thoughts on your work and share your opinions about theirs.

Friday, May 27, 2011

First 250 for the Made of Awesome Contest

Feel free to be brutal! I've gone through several iterations of this and it's still not where I want it. I appreciate all feedback. Thanks!

Title: Princess Protection Agency
Genre: YA Fantasy

A huge horse thundered down the road leading to the castle, clouds of dust billowing in its wake. Farmers and traders scrambled out of the way to avoid being trampled. Carts were overturned and livestock scattered.

“Who rides a horse that fast? Is there some war I don’t know about?” Evelyn asked as she knelt next to the boar they’d felled. Her eyes narrowed as she glared at the approaching rider.

“I wish,” Ruby said, her hand moving to her axe at the mention of conflict.

“Who cares? It’s some buffoon acting stupid,” Ingrid said. She gnawed her bottom lip as her gaze flicked between Evelyn and the rider.

Another group of farmers scattered as the horse charged toward them. The rider was thirty feet away and closing fast. Evelyn frowned.

“He’s rude. No reason to ride like a maniac. Time for him to learn to be more considerate of Norland’s citizens,” Evelyn said. She pulled her hunting knife from the boar and wiped it on the grass.

“I don’t think so. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s very considerate. A real peach,” Ingrid said. Her translucent wings shimmered as they fluttered.

“Don’t be a coward. We can teach him manners.” Evelyn’s finger ran along the edge of her knife as she headed to the road.

“Too dangerous. We should stay here in the grass,” Ingrid said, not that her argument would do any good. Her trembling hand gripped the wand at her side and her wings beat faster with each thud of the horse's hooves.

Made of Awesome Contest

Shelley Watters is hosting a "Made of Awesome Contest" contest at her blog, Is It Hot In Here Or Is It This Book?.

Everyone who signs up can post the first 250 words of their completed manuscript on May 28th. Then the participants go around and critique each others' post from the 28th to the 30th. That's a great way to get a ton of feedback from other writers.

And since it's a contest, there have to be winners, right? Agent Judith Engracia of Liza Dawson and Associates will read all of the first pages and select one for a ten-page critique.

To participate, sign up on her blog, http://shelleywatters.blogspot.com/.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pitch Contest with Natalie Fischer!

The amazing team at YAtopia is hosting a pitch contest with agent Natalie Fischer. Hurry and enter - only 150 entries are accepted and the contest closes at midnight tonight.

Check it out: http://yatopia.blogspot.com/2011/04/pitch-contest-with-natalie-fischer.html#comments

Good luck to everyone who enters and thanks to YAtopia for hosting the contest!

My entry (also found in the comments on the website):

Name: Dustin Warren

Email: duwarrs(at)gmail.com


Genre: YA Contemporary

Blog/Twitter/Facebook link: http://duwarr-writes.blogspot.com/

2 Sentence Pitch:

Fifteen-year-old Bailey wants a day free from doctors, free from her oppressive, worrying parents, and free from the misery her terminal disease inflicts on her. And if she has to die a little sooner to get that day, that’s okay by her.

Opening sentence:

Three pairs of hands fumble at the cords and tubes connecting me to the machines around my bed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Query Letter Blogfest

The Query Letter Blogfest is going on today to help writers improve the first impressions we make on agents. My query for ONE LAST TIME is below and I'd appreciate any and all thoughts. I definitely need to make this better.

Here we go:

Dear Agent,

[Reason I'm querying this particular agent] My Contemporary YA manuscript, ONE LAST TIME, is complete at 50,000 words.

Fifteen-year-old Bailey refuses to waste her last days immobilized in a hospital room. The sickness that’s ravaged her body and made her life wretched is about to kill her, but she's not going to lie in bed like a vegetable waiting for death to find her. With the help of her best friends, Bailey breaks out so she can enjoy one last day of freedom.

Free from the hospital, Bailey attempts the normal, everyday activities she’s been denied: driving a car, visiting the mall, even going to school. But then her heart gets in the way. When Bailey discovers love in an unexpected place, she questions her willingness to die for the first time. Suddenly, she has someone – and something – to live for, but she has to decide if that’s enough to return to the hospital to suffer through her last days in the place she’s grown to loathe.

Per [Agency Name's] submission guidelines, I have included [whatever they ask for]. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Game of Thrones

In my last post, I mentioned how I was looking forward to seeing The Hunger Games on the big screen. I'm just as excited - perhaps even more so - to see A Game of Thrones turned into a show on HBO. I've loved the series, although it has taken a long, long time getting to print.

As intricate as the plot is, I'm really glad this is a story being told on TV rather than in theaters. Hollywood would have to cut a ton to story to condense each book into a single movie. Even with 10 hour-long episodes per book, I'm worried a lot will be missing. Plus, author George R R Martin's slow writing pace means the show's creators will run out of books long before the series ends. But maybe the later books will span more than one season.

Martin's excruciatingly slow style has pained readers; he allegedly missed tons of deadlines while putting together A Dance with Dragons, finally to be released in July of this year. It's been six years since the previous book in the series, A Feast for Crows, came out. I'm looking forward to it, even if it is going to focus on some of the characters I'm less enamored with.

Martin's books are a great read for aspiring authors. His pacing, his plot development, the way he switches from one character's perspective to the next - all are incredible. I'll reread his books to make sure I remember all the important details going into the latest book.

One of the things he does best is making sure his characters each act in accordance to what's in their own best interests. It's infuriating at times when side characters to act in ways that don't coincide with what's best for my favorite characters. But, I always understand why that is. The story is much fuller because of that and there are a lot more twists.

From plotting to character development, there's a lot to learn about writing within the series' pages. I always like reading books that will help me become a better writer and Martin's works certainly do that.

Does anyone have any books they've learned a lot from?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I finished Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy last night. And yes, I know that makes me pretty much the last person to read the series. I read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire when they were released, but didn't read Mockingjay until this week.

And I was disappointed. Bet you couldn't guess that from the title of this post. It's hard to discuss my frustrations without spoilers, but I'll try just in case there's someone out there who is behind me in their reading.

The whole book was a buildup to a final battle. And when it arrived, it was a huge letdown. I get that Collins was trying to make the point that war is bad and ugly and the consequences are terrible, but in literature there are certain expectations. Frodo destroys the ring in Mount Doom. Harry defeats Voldemort. We read series with an expectation about how it ends. How we get there is up to the author and how it plays out is up to the author. Of course, the books belong to them and they aren't obligated to adhere to readers' preconceived notions about what and how things should transpire. But that doesn't stop me from feeling let down.

Plus, there's a twist at the end that's so obvious I was begging for it not to happen, simply because it was set up, blatantly, throughout the book. The twist was so obvious, it wasn't a twist if that makes any sense.

Looking at what I've written so far, it looks like I don't like Mockingjay. That's not right. I do. I like it a lot, despite the shortcomings I think the end has. I think one of the problems for the series is that the best book is first. The Hunger Games was fantastic. I read it after hearing about all the hype. Too many accolades heaped on a book can ruin it for me because my expectations are raised too high, but in my mind the reviews I'd read didn't do it justice. The book was fantastic. Catching Fire was good too. I liked it better the second time I read it, but to me it wasn't as good as the Hunger Games.

And Mockingjay was my least favorite. Still good. Still enjoyable, but not as good as the first two. Maybe I'll enjoy it more the second time around like I did Catching Fire, but I can't imagine enjoying the end.

Still, a great series that I will read again. And I can't wait to see the movies.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Epic Follower Blogfest / Contest

Shelley Watters at Is It Hot In Here Or Is It This Book? is hosting an Epic Follower Blogfest / Contest. The prize is a full manuscript request from agent Suzie Townsend. On April 1 and 2, pitches are posted for crituque by other participants. On April 3, the polished pitches are entered in the comment section of Shelley's contest post

Without further ado, here's my 140 character pitch.  Please bash away - I've really had to hack away at it to get it this short.

Title: One Last Time
Genre: Contemporary YA
Word Count: 50,000

Certain death awaits disease-ravaged Bailey if she leaves the hospital, but that’s a consequence she accepts if it means she can enjoy one last day with her friends.

That was hard.  Thanks for critiquing!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Show Me the Voice Entry

I'm participating in the Show Me the Voice contest Brenda Drake is hosting. More information is available at http://brenleedrake.blogspot.com/2011/03/its-on-show-me-voice-blogfestcontest.html.

My thanks to everyone who stops by and critiques!

NAME: Dustin
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Three pairs of hands fumble at the cords and tubes connecting me to the machines around my bed. The first one they remove is the tube down my throat, the one helping me breathe. If this one goes badly, the whole plan gets scrapped. The hands pause while I take a shallow, ragged breath. It's not pretty, the first time my lungs work on their own in two weeks, but I'm okay.

"Hurry," I say, but my voice is so raspy the word is impossible to make out.

They understand what I'm trying to say, though. The hands go to work again, disconnecting more of the imprisoning machines. The equipment beeps and complains as it separates from me.

"Hurry," I say again and this time the word comes out stronger.

The last thing they remove is the heart rate monitor. As soon I'm free from it, an ear-pounding blare erupts, announcing it can no longer detect my heartbeat. Outside my room, a matching blast sounds from the nurses' station. Any second now, they'll pour into my room and wreck my plans.

A pair of hands lifts me and tosses me over a shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

"Be gentle," Chelsea, my best friend, admonishes her boyfriend.

I shake my head. Gentle can wait. Right now, I need to escape. I'm tired of the hospital, tired of the doctors and their tests, and tired of being sick. So I'm leaving, even though I know what that means.

Today I'm going to die.

Goodbye Productivity

As much as I love March Madness, it's putting a serious dent in my daily word count. Instead of concentrating on my new WIP, I'm watching games. Having every game available on TV makes it too easy to flip from one to another to follow the action. Plus, during the day, the games are available on the internet so when I have downtime at work, I'm not writing, I'm checking out what's going on in basketball.

Luckily, the games are only on Thursdays and Fridays. I'll have three distraction-free days at the beginning of the week to write. And then my writing will go on another hiatus.

Not to mention, I filled out a couple brackets and most of them are already shot. But, that's what makes the tournament so much fun to watch. If everything went according to plan, the games wouldn't be nearly as interesting.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy March Madness

March Madness is now underway. Hooray! It’s my favorite sporting event. I’ve always been a huge basketball fan and I think this tournament is the perfect way for a season to end. I grew up in North Carolina before the state had a professional football team or professional hockey. College basketball ruled the state and we always had multiple teams involved in March Madness.

One of the best aspects is the amount of unpredictability in the tournament, especially the first two rounds. (And, despite what CBS and the NCAA says, I’m not counting the games from tonight and last night as the first round. The first round starts Thursday.) I love watching little-known teams upset powerhouses – as long as they aren’t beating one of the teams I’m rooting for.

While I was thinking about that, I realize many of my favorite books incorporate a lot of the same unpredictability. The Harry Potter books in particular have endings I never saw coming, even after I began looking for clues in the later books after I was so amazed by how the climaxes unfolded in the early books.

I like being caught by surprise when I’m reading, but only if it makes sense. Basketball doesn’t have to worry about that – the team that scores more wins. You can watch the game and see it happen. But books require a logical progression and when authors do that well, the payoff is fantastic.

That’s one of the things I’m working on in my own writing – creating endings that are surprising, but that readers can see why events unfolded the way they do when they think back on the story. Basically, I want to write the books I’d enjoy reading, but it’s harder than I expected. The challenge makes it more fun, though. When I struggle with a scene or chapter, I take a step back and examine the book as if I were reading it instead of writing it. Where would I want the book to go if I was reading it? What would I expect? What wouldn’t I expect that would make this a better book?

As I watch basketball the next few weeks, I’ll be hoping for upsets, for the unexpected to happen. Well, as long as my favorites keep winning. I do want a happy ending.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Genre Jumping

In a very small sample size, my recent manuscript is doing well so far with agents. Much better than I expected. The genre for this MS is YA Contemporary. Prior to this, I’d only written some sort of fantasy – YA Fantasy, MG Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal. There was always some element of not-normalness in my writing. But those rarely did well with the agents I submitted them to.

Now though, I’m beginning to question my genre choice. Have I been a YA Contemporary writer masquerading as a fantasy writer? Or, have I developed my writing skills to the point where I am a good enough writer that agents like my work now?

I’d like to think it’s the latter. Writing is certainly easier now than when I started and I’m more conscientious of what to do and what not to do. My first MS was an epic failure and I’ve progressed significantly, not that it was hard to get better than that. My characters no longer change personalities three times in a chapter. There’s a coherent tone from beginning to end. Half a dozen adverbs don’t litter every sentence.

So would I have been doing as well if I’d decided to write Fantasy again instead of venturing into new territory? I hope so. But doubt nags at the back of my mind.

The question is important because I’m trying to figure out what to write next. I’m bouncing around ideas from a couple genres. Would Contemporary YA be a smart choice because I’m playing to my strengths? Or will my next MS be more successful because of my growth as a writer?

I have some time while I tweak my query and take a brief break from writing and editing. Next week, though, I’ll be back at it and starting work on a new WIP. And before then I need to decide what genre I’ll be doing when I open my word processer to type that first sentence.

Has anyone else had a similar circumstance where they switched genres and discovered new success? Any advice?