Practical exercises in keeping the faith. Hypothetically.

Hello, readers –

Well, after spending all week writing about ways for writers to keep their spirits up while slogging their way through the long path to publication, I got a perfect opportunity today to put it into use. Surprise, surprise, once again, all is not well with my book on its meandering path to publication. Not because of the book itself this time, but how it is being marketed.

PLEASE NOTE: due to the many complex and contentious issues swirling around the publication of my memoir, I must tell you that the story that follows is ONLY HYPOTHETICAL. It is merely the type of thing that might happen to any memoirist with a book headed for publication, and thus of educational interest to my readership. Any similarities between this scenario and my actual life are purely coincidental, and should not be taken as indicative of the really very interesting behind-the-scenes story that I’m dying to tell you. Really.

Everybody got that straight? Okay, then, on with the story. Hypothetically:

Picture me this morning, groggily making tea after a late night spent working on the new novel. Yes, I already have a novel at my agent’s, ready to be sprung upon editors everywhere, but hey, I’m not one to allow grass to grow under my creative feet, as it were. I keep moving forward from project to project — thus staying up until 4 a.m. writing on the new project.

So there I am at 11 a.m., peacefully trying to decide between orange blossom oolong and lavender Earl Grey, when my phone rings. It’s my agent, asking me excitedly if I have received her e-mail. Well, no: I’ve just gotten up, but as East Coast people always seem astonished that folks out in our time zone aren’t up early enough to catch the sunrise and witness the opening of the NY Stock Exchange, I don’t admit that. I just tell her I was writing — she knows by now that writing time means I’m oblivious to the world around me, anyway.

Well, she says (hypothetically), she has bad news. After 6 full months of silence, the fine folks who spent the summer threatening to sue my publisher over my memoir have abruptly sent another letter. Still no list of what they want changed in the book, of course; instead, this threat complains about — brace yourselves, because this part really is going to read like utter fiction — the marketing blurb on my publisher’s website (which has appeared there in its current form since July, 2005, I believe, with scarce a hypothetical murmur from the current complainers) and a picture used on the cover (ditto).

I am beginning to wonder if I am still asleep. I gulp my ultra-hot tea with unwise haste, to try to wake myself up. “Wait,” I say with hypothetically scalded tongue, “I didn’t write the blurb, and I had absolutely no say over the jacket design. Why is this my problem?”

Alas, it is, my agent explains, because in the post-James Frey environment, even the hint of a problem with a memoir can send a publisher running for cover. Memoir sales in bookstores remain strong, but just try selling a memoir to an editor at a major publishing house these days. He’ll look at you as though you have asked him to stick his hand in a vise.

So once again, my project is, in theory, on hold. Picture my hypothetical anguish.

I’ve told you about my memoir, right? A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK was first supposed to come out this month, and then got pushed back to May, due to a threatened lawsuit. Hypothetically, the people who are suing, the estate of the late lamented gentleman of the title, have never specified what in the text they want changed; or rather, they did specify about a dozen minor changes they wanted, but immediately AFTER I had made them, they threatened to sue my publisher. Go figure.

To this day, I am (hypothetically) not sure what they hate so about the book, since up to the point when they started threatening (and thus we had no further direct contact), they had never breathed a word about not believing I was telling the truth. (If you would like a bit more background on this saga, check out the one and only interview I have given about it. If you want to hear the other side’s version, you could also go to the estate-owned fansite; hypothetically, I am told, one of the claims there is that I have given many interviews on the subject – and written extensively on this blog about it. You could also, in theory, see there the claim that this blog is not even vaguely useful to aspiring writers. Or so I am told.)

Like so many memoirs out there, mine for virtually the entirety of the writing process ostensibly had the full support of the very people who are trying to block it now. (Shortly after I sold the book, they sent me a lovely bouquet of hypothetical flowers, in fact.) I am writing about my own experiences with someone who is no longer living, so technically, I did not need anyone’s permission to write it, legally — especially as in this case, all of the still-living people concerned have been yakking their heads off to biographers and reporters for over two decades now. I’m actually the only one who has held her tongue to date. Hypothetically.

It’s not as though the prospective suers haven’t had a chance to tell their side of the story, or indeed, haven’t been telling it pretty industriously. If you’re giving interviews to national and international magazines, chances are that you are a public figure, and thus available for scrutiny by other writers. You can’t write a book about your relationship with a celebrity, or give extensive interviews on that relationship, or maintain a website that presents yourself as the public spokesperson for that celebrity, and then claim that your privacy has been violated if someone mentions your existence in passing. Or so I’m told by people who follow the law.

That’s part of what gives this situation its rich, ironic hypothetical undertones: to the best of my knowledge, the Philip-related part of my storyline has been written about in at least a dozen books, including ones by Philip himself AND a memoir by one of the currently complaining parties’ mothers. The continents positively ring with versions of stories about my kith and kin.

I guess I didn’t get the memo that said I was the only person on earth not entitled to write about it — or about my own life story. The funny thing is, hypothetically, I DID have permission from the two primary complaining parties to write this book. In writing. Which might be difficult for them to explain should this eventually come to court. (Of course, I speak only of theoretical possibilities here.)

Of course, anybody’s statements are open to interpretation. Let’s try a little exercise, to sharpen your wits for the practical application of the theory we have been discussing here. Hypothetically, let’s say after you had told some affected parties that you had a book contract, they sent you an e-mail that said something like:

…we both really appreciate your offer for our thoughts on “challenging embroideries in print” in your PKD bio. However, both of us feel that this should be your PKD story and that we should not influence your creative efforts in any way. We believe you need to be as free as your predecessor biographers to approach your project in your own way. That’s not to say that we don’t care because we do of course, but it wouldn’t be fair to you for us to in any way hobble your efforts.

Would you:

(a) take this statement at its face value, and believe your book had the senders’ support?

(b) instantly stop writing the book, because a lawsuit is clearly imminent?

(c) thank the senders for the sentiment, but make many copies of the e-mail and cling to it like a leech, in case the senders later changed their minds about the value of freedom and creative efforts?

If you chose (c), you are better prepared than most to write nonfiction; alas, it is only in theory that such promises provide protection. It is a myth that releases from people mentioned in a book will protect the writer; they are only a deterrent as long as the signers believe them to be. There is absolutely no way that anyone can legitimately promise never to change his mind. Most of the sued memoirists of my acquaintance (and many published memoirs generate at least one lawsuit threat on their way to publication) had obtained such releases; the paper those releases were written upon later made useful handkerchiefs and kindling.

Hypothetically, more or less until the moment now-condemners started threatening my publisher, they were overtly supportive of the project — volunteering material for inclusion in it, even, and praising the only draft they ever read — but ultimately, all of that comradely vim did not make any difference in the long term. Because this is the post-James Frey environment, where anyone who wants to derail a book project need not produce any actual proof that the author is not telling the truth, or even any legally-demonstrable reason that the complainer would be harmed by the book’s being published. They need only threaten; they need only have money enough in their pockets to make that threat credible. And publishers quail.

Hypothetically, however, truth is an absolute defense against slander and libel. Hypothetically, any writer has the right to tell her own life story, the complete freedom — how did they put it? — “to approach the project in your own way.” And hypothetically, a publisher who has tangible proof that a writer is telling the truth will stand by her book.

I have no idea at this point how this theoretical tale of publishing stop-and-start will turn out. Maybe the hypothetical publishers will stand by the author; maybe the hypothetical complainers will remember that they sent the author a whole lot of e-mails, confirming the truth of quite a bit of what’s in the book. And maybe the author will turn the whole thing into a novel, where she can tell the absolute truth without fear of reprisals. That’s the trouble with hypothetical people: you never can predict to a certainty what they will do.

Oh, dear, I am looking forward to the non-hypothetical day when I can fill you in on what is really going on with my book. It really is quite a story; perhaps some day, I shall write about it.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Scoring Criteria, Part XI: Logic, Provoking the Genuine Laugh, and the Ta Da! Factor

Hello, readers –

Today really will be the last installment of my series on literary contest judging criteria, I promise. This topic has been hard to leave, because it really is a microcosm of how books are viewed by publishing professionals. However, I promised you blogs on how to write a bio, and those you shall have.

Back to Presentation category problems. Another common problem in contest entries, one that affects both coherence and continuity, is skipping logical steps in arguments or plots, assuming that the reader will simply fill in the gaps for herself. This results in logic that appears from the reader’s POV to run like this:

1. Socrates was a man.

2. Socrates was wise.

3. Therefore, men who want to be wise should not wear socks.

Clearly, there is some logic missing here, right? In order to prove Proposition 3, the writer would first have to show that (a) Socrates did not wear socks (I have no idea if this is true, but hey, Greece is a warm country, so bear with me here), (b) non-sock wearing had some tangible and demonstrable effect upon his mental processes that cannot be explained by other contributing factors, such as years of study or having a yen for conversation, and (c) the bare ankle experiment’s success was not dependent upon some exogenous variable, such as the fact that socks would have looked really stupid worn with a toga. It would make sense, too, to establish that Socrates is a proper role model for modern men to emulate, as opposed to scruffy old sock-wearing moral thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Mary Wollstonecraft. Perhaps the book could even include a compare-and-contrast of the intellectual achievements of famous sock-wearing individuals versus those of the air-blessed ankles. By the end of such a disquisition, the reader might well become converted to the author’s premise, and cast his footwear from him with a cry of liberation.

Think this seems like a ridiculous example of skipped steps, one that could not possibly occur in a real manuscript? Oh, my poor friend, bless your innocent eyes: you’ve obviously never been a judge in a nonfiction contest or advised an undergraduate thesis.

In nonfiction, I can do no better than to refer my faithful readers to Nietzsche’s THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA as an illustration of this phenomenon. (I know, I know; I’m on a philosophy kick today, but it’s such a sterling example that I simply can’t resist.) Following the narrative of this book is like watching a mountain goat leap from crag to crag on a blasted mountainside; the goat may be able to get from one promontory to another with no trouble, but those of us tagging behind actually have to walk up and down the intervening gullies. The connective logic between one point and the next is frequently far from clear, or even downright wacko — and in a book that proposes that the writer and reader both might be logically superior to other people, that’s a serious coherence problem.

Okay, Nietzsche allegedly wrote the work in a three-day frenzy while confined to an insane asylum, so perhaps it is not fair to expect world-class coherence from him. The average literary contest entrant, however, does not have so good an excuse.

If a judge ever has the opportunity to write “connective logic?” in one of your margins, your presentation score is sunk. Make sure you’re filling in the relevant gullies.

Nietzsche did one thing in THUS SPAKE ZARTHUSTRA that would help him win back points in the Presentation category: include genuinely funny lines. It’s actually quite an amusing book, coherence problems aside (and not only because of them), and very, very few contest entries are funny. A funny manuscript, or even a funny joke in a serious manuscript, feels like a gift to your average tired contest judge. A deliberately-provoked laugh from a judge can result in the reward of many Presentation points, and often additional points in the Voice category as well.

Notice that I specified a DELIBERATELY-PROVOKED laugh. An unintentional laugh, what moviemakers call “a bad laugh” because it springs forth from the audience when the filmmakers do not want it to occur, will cost points. We’ve all recognize bad laughs in movies (my personal favorite was in the most recent remake of LITTLE WOMEN: Jo, played by Winona Ryder, has sold her long, lovely hair in order to help the family, and one of her sisters cries out, “Oh, Jo! Your one beauty.” The theatre positively rocked with laughter, because Ms. Ryder possesses the kind of face that artists over the centuries have willingly mortgaged their souls in order to depict accurately), but literally the only way for an author to discover them in her own book is to have someone else read it.

Do not, whatever you do, make the extremely common mistake of including guffawing onlookers to mark where the reader is supposed to laugh, as that will cost you points as well. This is another one that writers seem to have picked up from movies or television: whenever a joke appears in the dialogue, the reader is told that someone nearby laughs in response. Contrary to the author’s apparent expectation, to an experienced professional reader, this additional information detracts from the humor of the scene, rather than adds to it; the bigger the onlookers’ reaction, the less funny it seems.

Why? Well, to a judge, agent, or editor who has been around the block a few times, the onlooker’s guffaw is a flag that the author has some doubt about whether the joke is actually funny. It’s a marker of discomfort, a peek behind the scenes into the writer’s mind, distracting from the story at hand. And once the reader suspects that the writer isn’t amused, it’s only a small step to the reader’s not being amused, either.

The moral: you can lead a reader to funny, but you can’t make him laugh.

Finally, there is one more criterion that falls into the Presentation category, what I call the
Ta da! factor. It’s hard to define precisely, because it’s when a manuscript exudes the sort of mercurial charisma that Elinor Glyn dubbed It when it occurs in human beings. (Thus Clara Bow, the It Girl.) Like It, the Ta da! factor makes a manuscript shine, practically demanding that the judge give the entry high marks. In fact, a healthy dose of the Ta da! factor might even prompt a judge to fudge a little in the other categories, so as to assure the entry a point total that will launch it into the finalist round.

To achieve the Ta da! factor — well, if I could tell you that, I would chuck the blogging business entirely and establish myself as the world’s most expensive writing guru. I do know that mere professionalism is not enough. Yes, all of the technical aspects of the work need to be right, as well as the execution. The writing style needs to be strong and distinct, and it helps a lot if the story is compelling. Beyond that, it’s a little hard to say how precisely the Ta da! factor gives a manuscript its sheen, just as it’s difficult to pin down just what makes a great first line of a book so great. Perhaps it’s rhythm, and a certain facility for telling detail:

”I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods. For instance, there is a brownstone in the East Seventies where, during the early years of the war, I had my first New York apartment. It was one room crowded with attic furniture, a sofa and four chairs upholstered in that itchy, particular red velvet that one associates with hot days on a train.”

That’s the opening of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, Truman Capote’s masterpiece that incidentally someone really ought to make into a movie some day, because the Audrey Hepburn version bears only a passing resemblance to it. (For instance, the original novella concerns a friendship between a woman and man in their late teens; the movie is about a love story between a man and a woman in, if you look at George Peppard charitably, their late thirties. Oh, and the endings are quite different.) But just look at the use of language here. You could sing this opening; it’s positively bursting with the Ta da! factor.

Perhaps, too, a certain sense of showmanship is required. Bask in this one:

”He was a very good-looking young man indeed, shaped to be annoyed. His voice was intimate as the rustle of sheets, and he kissed easily. There was no tallying the gifts of Charvet handkerchiefs, art moderne ash-trays, monogrammed dressing-gowns, gold key-chains, and cigarette-cases of thin wood, inlaid with views of Parisian comfort stations, that were sent him by ladies too quickly confident, and were paid for with the money of unwitting husbands, which is acceptable any place in the world.”

That, my friends, is the opening to Dorothy Parker’s DUSK BEFORE FIREWORKS, and let me tell you, if a short story like that fell onto my desk as a contest judge, I would not only shower it with the highest possible marks (yes, even though I do not agree with all of Ms. Parker’s punctuation choices in this excerpt); I would nag the category chair about pushing it into the finalist round. I would go to the awards ceremony, cheer if it won, and make a point of meeting the author. I might even introduce the author to my agent. Because, my friends, it exudes the aura of the Ta da! factor as distinctly as a Buddhist temple exudes incense.

I mention this, not to cow you with examples of writing by extremely talented writers, but to fill you with hope, after this long discourse on all the technical ways you can gain or lose points in the contest judging process. Ultimately, talent does supersede almost every other consideration, as long as the work is professionally presented.

This is not to say that you should not go to great lengths to avoid making the point-costing mistakes I have pointed out in the last two weeks — you should, because genuinely talented writers’ work is knocked out of competition (and into agents’ rejection piles) all the time for technical reasons. When talent is properly presented, though, the results are magical.

A few years ago, a member of my writing group, a mystery writer, submitted a chapter, as we all did, for the group to read. In this draft (we has seen earlier ones), the first two paragraphs were gaspingly beautiful, so full of the atmosphere of the Sierra Nevada mountains that I not only to this day picture his opening in my mind as clearly as a movie — I feel that I was actually there. After reading this opening, the group grew rather quiet, so we could all chew on the imagery, the sentence structure for a while. It was so imbued with the Ta da! factor that there hardly seemed to be any point in discussing the rest of his chapter.

“One of the miracles of talent,” Mme. de Staël tells us, “is the ability to knock your readers out of their own egoism.” (Another favorite writer of mine; every woman who writes should read her brilliant novel CORINNE at some point. She wrote it in 1807, but apart from the travelogue sections, it’s still fresh as piping-hot cinnamon rolls today.) The Ta da! factor does just that, grabs the reader’s attention and simply insists upon this book’s being read, right now.

Under the sway of all of the publishing fads continually buffeting us, it’s all too easy for writers to forget what power really good writing has. If only the publication of a truly exciting book were taken up with the verve and intensity that the media has devoted to the controversy over James Frey’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES. “But is it well written?” the commentators should cry, and then go into questions of factual accuracy.

Publishing fads, like fashions in beauty, come and go. Talent doesn’t. Just as so many of the actors held up as exemplars of beauty now would not have been considered especially attractive in, say, the Italian Renaissance, or even a hundred years ago, I believe that many of the books published today will not be considered essential reading a hundred years from now. But the work of some authors — Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker, Mme. de Staël, for instance — has something about it that elevates it above the passing fad, just as there are some actors who, it is perfectly obvious to us all, would have been considered absolutely lovely in any period of human history.

“Oh, Jo! Your one beauty!” notwithstanding.

Keep your chins up, my friends, through all the hard work of perfecting your manuscripts and contest entries; you’re toiling in a noble vineyard. Real talent is not necessarily measured in the short term. Keep up the good work.

– Anne Mini

Scoring Criteria, Part X: Scoring Criteria, Part X: Continuity, Coherence, and the Big Surprise

Hello, readers –

Today, I think, will be the last installment of my series on what contest judges use as evaluation criteria; I want to move on to my long-promised tutorial on how to write an author bio. Like so much else, constructing an author bio is a skill that every writer is expected to have in her tool bag, regardless of what else she writes. I don’t want you to get blindsided by this routine request down the line, so I’ll show you how to write one.

Yesterday, I talked about how issues of coherence and continuity can cost entries points in the Presentation category, including a spirited complaint about how movies and television prompt us not to explain motivations and to perpetuate clichés. I pointed out how the good writer should be wary of the unanswered question the story may raise for the reader, particularly if it is a rather obvious one. I implied, and none too gently, that watching low-quality screenwriting in action has led many writers to be lazy on these points.

It serves me right, therefore, to have seen a very good movie last night that prompted a very, very big unanswered question. Screenwriters everywhere have my apologies: maybe it has something to do with the medium. Thank you very much for providing me with such a marvelous example of how unanswered questions can vitiate even the best-crafted story.

The film was LOVE LIZA, with the generally excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman (of CAPOTE fame; I still haven’t recovered from THAT screenplay’s changing the identity of the murderer from the one who committed the bulk of the mayhem in the book IN COLD BLOOD) and the dependably wonderful Kathy Bates. As the movie makes clear over and over, the title refers to the closing of a letter — so if you’re wondering why the title is missing the grammatically necessary comma in the middle, you’re in good company.

Maybe it’s a command.

The approximately two-minute silence that opens the film (I didn’t realize at first that I should be clocking it, so pardon my imprecision) let the viewer know that this was going to be Art with a capital A, so I settled in for a good, old-fashioned depressing film about the human experience. And boy, did I get it: the protagonist (Hoffman), who has just lost his wife to suicide, takes up sniffing gasoline and related petroleum products with a vim that most people reserve for the first course of Thanksgiving dinner. So engaged is he in mourning-though-inhalants that he cannot manage to open the suicide note his wife left for him, cleverly hidden under the pillow of a man who obviously thinks laundering sheets is for sissies. Because he’s afraid that the letter will blame him in some way that he cannot imagine (it’s hard to imagine much with a gasoline-soaked rag clutched to your face, I would guess), he carries the note with him everywhere he goes for most of the film — and believe me, he gets around.

Okay, a quick quiz for all of you novelists out there: what’s going to happen in the final scene? What, in fact, did we know was going to happen in the final scene as soon as he did not open the letter the first time it appeared?

But as I say, this was a good film, so I was willing to waive objections on this point. However, the moment he slit the envelope open, my writer’s mind went haywire. Why, I asked myself, would a woman bent upon doing herself in within the next minute or two have bothered to fold up the note and stuff it in an envelope? She and her husband lived alone; he was equally likely to be the first to see it if she had left it unfolded on the kitchen counter as hidden under a pillow in an envelope.

Those of you who read yesterday’s post already know the answer, don’t you? BECAUSE THE PLOT REQUIRED IT, that’s why — how could the protagonist tote around the Visible Symbol of His Loss for an hour and a half UNLESS it was in a sealed envelope? Evidently, the late lamented Liza was considerate enough to have read the script before doing herself in.

Thus was yet another good story well presented scuttled by the unanswered question. Remember, “because the plot requires it” is never a valid motivation; stories are invariably improved by ferreting out the answers before showing the work to an audience.

In this case, for instance, if someone — say, the unbiased reader I always recommend you show your work before loosing it upon the world — had asked the screenwriter the unanswered question, a genuinely touching scene could have been added to the movie: the letter is sitting on the kitchen counter (or under the unwashed pillowcase still, if you prefer); the protagonist takes those full two minutes at the top of the movie to become aware enough of his environment to find it, and when he does, the prospect of being blamed terrifies him so much that he uses kitchen tongs to stuff it into a Manila envelope, unread. Then HE could seal it, thus giving further resonance to his inevitable decision to unseal it in the final scene.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a demonstration of what a good editor can do for your story. Or a good writing group, or indeed any truly talented first reader. Not only can outside eyes alert you to problems you might not otherwise catch; they can help suggest specific ways to make your book better.

Okay, time to move on from unanswered questions. Often, writers fail to provide information necessary to understanding a situation until after it has occurred, resulting in many lost points in contest scoring and rending of readers’ garments. One of the most common of lapses is the post-explained joke, a surprise or one-liner that is only funny if the reader knows certain information in advance — but the reader is not given that information in advance. There are vast graveyards of jokes that died hideous and protracted deaths because their authors did not set them up properly — and then sought to save the situation by adding a line or a paragraph of explanation afterward.

I don’t quite get this — does the author intend that the joke will be funny the SECOND time someone reads the book? Or is it in response to some kind reader having pointed out that the joke sans explanation was not at all funny? Or — and a creeping sensation up my spine tells me that this is the most plausible explanation of all — has the author just read over that particular scene so many times that the time-space continuum in which a reader would experience it has dissolved as a consideration?

However it may be, it’s a sure way to lose points in the Presentation category.

Jokes, alas, are not the only writing phenomena where the set-up tends to come after the fact. I tremble to tell you this, but often, big surprises pop up in entries without any prior indication that (a) this is not the outcome the characters were expecting, (b) this was not the logical outcome of events thus far, and/or (c) how such a turn of events might affect other people or events in the book.

”But it’s a SURPRISE,” writers will often whine when people like me (kindly souls devoted to improving the art form) gently suggest that perhaps a skillful writer might want to reveal some inkling of (a), (b), or (c) in advance, so the reader’s sense of the import of the moment will be greater. “I don’t want to give the whole thing away.”

Obviously, a writer who says this is not thinking of doing as my ilk and I advise, introducing the relevant information in a subtle manner, perhaps even piecemeal, in the pages prior to the big revelation. I say obviously, because if she were thinking of being subtle about it at all, the surprise would not be spoilt. No, she is thinking of what I like to call “a lazy man’s edit,” just lifting the explanation she’s already written and plopping it down earlier in the text, as is.

It never fails to astonish me just how far some writers will go to avoid real, in-depth revision. They fall so deeply in love with their own sentences that the very idea of cutting some of them and revising others seems like sacrilege.

That’s fine, if it makes them happy to approach their work that way, but it is an attitude that judges, agents, and editors can spot a mile away. They can sense it in a manuscript, pouncing on it like a drug-sniffing dog zeroing in on trace amounts of heroin. “Whoa,” they say, quickly pushing the manuscript aside. “This is an author who would be difficult to work with.”

I’m not saying that all writers who give after-explanations are impervious to input, of course, but it is a fairly common conclusion for professional readers to draw. This is why it is so important to avoid making this mistake in a contest entry: it doesn’t come across as a simple editing problem, but as a matter of authorial choice. For some reason of his own, they conclude, the author chose to minimize this joke or that dramatic moment. Go figure.

Why would they leap to such an extreme (and writer-hostile) conclusion, you ask? Come closer, and I’ll tell you a little secret: many, if not most, judges, agents, and editors assume that by the time they see a piece of writing, it HAS received feedback from other people.

Clearly, then, if such a glaring continuity problem as after-explanation was not corrected, one of two things must have happened: either the author got bad feedback (in which case the manuscript should be rejected until such time as the author learns to get better at her craft) or the author got good feedback and ignored it (in which case the author is difficult). Either way, they’re not rushing to embrace the author who does it.

So, for your contest entries, if it is comically or dramatically necessary for the reader to have some piece of information in order to be able to have a spontaneous reaction to a given line, make sure that the reader has the information first.

Well, I guess I shall have to push off my treatise on crafting the author bio until next week, because I find that I have a lot more to say about continuity and coherence in contest entries. Not to mention the fact that I seem not to have gotten to the promised topic of humor in entries at all. Here is one distinct advantage the blogger has over the contest entrant: what the entrant promises in the synopsis, she must deliver in the chapter, at least in part.

As a blogger, though, I can merely retreat to the tried-and-true methodology of the old serials: tune in tomorrow to find out how the story ends. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

P.S. to Bob and all of the others out there who have tried without success to find links to my October, November, and December archived postings: no, there is not a link to them yet; they disappeared into the ether when the website switched servers. More news as it develops. But if I can’t figure out how to remedy the problem soon, as a personal favor to you, Bob, for bringing it to my attention, I’ll post the piece on Point of View Nazis again.