Thursday, March 20, 2008

Some of the Books I've Read Lately

After putting away my completed manuscript and starting the process over, I've been reading a lot. Some of it is research for the new book. Some of it is pure fun disguised as "let's see what's selling now." And some of the reading is about fine-tuning my own writing.

It didn't take long to stumble over Noah Lukeman's writing. I think I probably was first wooed by the alluring title, The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Who doesn't want to stay out of the rejection pile? And having had several requests for partials that all ended with something like, "Your premise is really strong. I really like the idea of this but the narrative just didn't grab me right away," I want to know: how do I make those first five pages irresistible?

I don't think this is a bad book. If you are a new writer, or have faced lots of rejections and have no idea why, this might be a great place to start. But I was hoping for more. Maybe I wanted the secret that would suddenly have agents phoning me at 3 am saying, "I've got to have this!" Maybe I wanted something concrete that would make me smack my palm against my forehead and say, "That's it! That's what I was missing!" And maybe I wanted that formula I could plug and play.

Whatever it was I wanted, it wasn't what I got. What I got was a list of don'ts that I already knew, either from writing classes or from scouring the web for writing advice or from Stephen King's On Writing. It included such advice as make sure you don't have lots of spelling errors and use correct formatting, and please, please, send clean, unwrinkled copies. Check.

Eliminate excessive adjectives and almost all adverbs. Check.

Use correct punctuation. Check. Well, mostly. But the wrong stuff is limited and meaningful.

Get rid of extraneous characters and subplots. Check.

Similes and metaphors are evil.

The purpose of dialogue.

It's not that this stuff isn't good. It is. It's important. Imperative. Not just for the first five pages, but for the entire manuscript. And that's what this book is. A guide for making your manuscript not stink. But as for the first five pages, the way to make your partial stand out and scream, "read me! read me!" it doesn't offer the magic pill. It's more don't do this than do this. It's more this will get you tossed immediately than this will make them ask for more.

I think this book is good, but the title is misleading. The information is adequate, but not enough to propel a good writer into the arms of an agent. It is well written; it is clear and well organized; it is practical. I'd even go so far as to say I think aspiring writers should read it. But the way to catching an agent it ain't. And for that fact, I was a bit disappointed.

Tomorrow: The Plot Thickens (also by Noah Lukeman): I loved this one!

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