Friday, February 15, 2013

More Boring talk about my process



I haven’t had a project update in a while.

I spent the first few weeks of revision sort of pretending like maybe I wouldn’t have to actually revise. As in, if I could find enough people who liked my manuscript then I wouldn’t need to fix anything. This is not a productive mindset, in case you were wondering.

What it needed was a rewrite of the first few chapters. So I rewrote them, one sentence at a time. I agonized over the tone and the voice and whether anyone would ever want to read about a frumpy woman who stumbles across something extraordinary. For those of you not familiar with the ordinary character gets sucked into extraordinary circumstances, this is called a portal fantasy. It’s basically the kiss of death. There are numerous agents who say they’ll consider anything except portal fantasy. And worse, it’s actually spec fic. Portal fantasy spec fic.

Sigh. The reason portal stories (a character goes from their everyday normal life through a portal to another world) are the kiss of death is because they are, well, to say the least, boring. They start with an average joe who finds the special book/ring of power/realizes they’re the son of zeus and then the adventure begins.

What’s hard about the portal story is that you have to know a little bit about the character before their choices make sense. Oh, and they’re usually pretty boring because we want them to seem like an everyday sort of person. So imagine trying to pitch a book where the first part is about Joe Nobody who gets lucky enough to find the portal to another dimension/power ring of awesome/suddenly can cast lightning from his nostrils. It’s like trying to sell ice to the Inuits, agents don’t want it, don’t need it, and they have it coming out their ears.  

A lot rides on the first couple of chapters. That means pressure. Pressure means I write like zoo dirt (it’s nasty stuff), and I know it. I hemmed and hawed over my first three chapters. I rewrote them. I rewrote them again. For fun, I gave it one more stab. That’s the hard part of revision, knowing where the most scrutiny will be, and floundering through a revision because of it.

But now I’m in the part of the revision that’s all butterflies and rainbows. It’s the part that I love (I love writing action and anything that should be accompanied by the Bhum Bom Baaah! sound effect).

How about you, are you a portal story fan, or does the stink coming off portal stories make your nose hairs curl? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell the literary luminaries if you like portal stories, and I won’t blame you if you hate them—I’ve read some stinkers in my day too)

19 comments:

  1. My first novel was a portal fantasy... my MC literally dove through a portal chasing a cat (who ends up being magical) into the land where she grew up... only her memory has been wiped, so she doesn't remember growing up... yeah, I added "kick the MS while it's down amnesia trope" to the "kiss of death portal fantasy." Sigh... but it was fun to write.

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    1. Oh no! Not the magical cats and amnesia! AND A PORTAL!!!!

      I'm in the uncomfortable position of knowing that my beloved manuscript might actually be doomed before it's even revised, but it was so much fun to write.

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    2. I know, right? *headdesk* A girl's gotta dream though.

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  2. I had no idea portal fantasies were a hard sell. It's not something I write, so perhaps that's why I hadn't hear that. I do like reading them, though! I never would have guessed they'd be so unwanted.

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    1. Yeah, I know, but apparently they're so common as to be farcical. Scroll down here to see it in an agent's wishlist by name.

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    2. Wow. That sucks. :-P (I love Jennifer, too.)

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    3. OMG I know! She's absolutely at the tippy top of my list (I usually write YA, this particular story being the exception).

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  3. Hang in there. It's definitely a journey, but don't give up. This is coming from someone who is trying to un-slump herself right now. LOL! Still, I know there is no light at the end of the tunnel if I quit trying, so hang in there :)

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    1. Yeah, I'm in a bit of a slump because I'm worried that all of my stories are portals. But you're right, the only time the light goes out is when I quit (which isn't likely any time soon).

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  4. The only portal fantasies I'm aware of are the YA books that get turned into films, and then my kids want to watch the films and I happen to be there with them.

    I can see how it would be a hard sell to agents, based on the 3 chapter rule, so good luck with it. I'm sure you've got something great up your sleeve!

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    1. I'm not sure what the 3 chapter rule is, but if the rule is that the main plot has to be front and center by chapter 3, then I've got that covered.

      And I like to think I have something good up my sleeves.

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    2. Yep, that's the rule... Although I've just realised my resting WIP does not adhere to that in the slightest! Um, well, there's always the exception to the rule :-D

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  5. For the record, I love posts about process!
    And I had no idea portal fantasies were so unloved, but thanks for the info.
    My guess though is that your protagonist isn't nearly as boring as you think, since she has what it takes to survive whatever adventures you've set out for her. The important thing in those opening chapters is to give her a problem she needs to overcome from her real life, and then make things worse for her once she reaches the portal.
    I know this to be true because I have the same issue with my first few chapters! I can't seem to lay out my protagonist's underlying issues clearly enough.
    Maybe he needs to jump into a portal and out of my story ... ;)

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    1. I think boringness of the characters is what makes portal fantasies so unloved. Some agents have even commented on the boring character bit, so I've done what I can to keep my MC from starting off as a boring person.

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  6. Uhm... yeah. I am a writer who spent about five years of my life on a portal fantasy that's completely different from any portal fantasy out there. I mean, characters are as far from average as you get. Even in the beginning.

    Result: slew of rejections by a bunch of agents who don't even seem to be reading my excerpts before firing off the freaking rejection letters.

    Trust me, it has a looooooot more than my nose-hairs bunched into a wad.

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    1. Rejections are hard. I have my own stack, and trust me, I'm not exactly the query contest beauty queen. I don't know if those rejections are because of my writing or my concept. It's so hard to figure out what's "wrong" with a story.

      And I'm sorry to hear about all your rejections, that stinks.

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  7. I had every agent on the block tell me my epic fantasy was great but that they couldn't sell it. So I by passed them and took it to a small pub :)

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    1. Which is VERY smart of you. And I'm super excited about your book coming out! So awesome.

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  8. i'm re reading "magic kingdom for sale, sold!" total not boring portal story by terry brooks. getting great inspiration from it.

    and way to entice with a " boring" post title! ha ha! revisions are not my fave, shiny new, baby. shiny new!

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