The Trenches are a bad place to be always, but I hear that right now it is worse than ever. I can’t compare so I’ll take y’all’s word for it. So, how do I, certified nd mess, deal with it?
As always, I have a spreadsheet. It helps me keep track of who I can query, who I have queried, who already passed and, in theory, keeps me from querying two agents at the same agency at the same time. (sry Donald Maass Agency 😓)
There may be a little too much info in it, but I like info. Have a lying screenshot of part of my list. No, I will not give the true comments in my comment section. Also I cut the names of the agents and hid most of their mail/querytracker addy as well as cutting off the URL to their page on the agency site.
So many colours. But I LOVE colours so I colour-code everything. Red only means closed, not sus. I have a separate tab for my tea list. Also, I have a very idiosyncratic set of code words for my categories and you won’t find more spaghetti in any spreadsheet.
The decision who is which choice at an agency is made from readily available info and my gut feeling. (Listen to your gut!) Sometimes it’s the tone the MSWL is written in or something they mention that matches with Sava. (Disclaimer: matches in my head)
I know you are sold strategies and everything about querying. I read them, too. I understand how they are a good idea, but also, I am not a good idea so here we are.
I started yeeting my query once I considered it good enough. I yeeted at agents about to close and the dreaded dream agents (pls reject my ms already, I am dying here! 😭) and, naturally every open enby agent I know of.
Not very discerning, I know, I know. I filed in the day I sent my queries and by when to expect a reply (in theory, we all know getting any reply is a lottery). I did not expect to have “unknown” as reply duration quite so often.
Then I set out to wait. And write the second part of the series. (I know, I know you’re not supposed to write it before you sell the first part, but I love the series and I will write it.) That didn’t go well. Neither the waiting nor the writing.
I got a canvas, partitioned off 100 squares and got paints and star stickers so each time I get a pass, I will paint one of the squares and stick a glittery little star on it. I have extra special stars for extra special passes and personalised passes get the agent’s name written on the star. (I have one of those by now *le sigh*)
Nothing happened for a long time, a few passes rolled in. I kept track on query tracker as well, but kept forgetting about the timeline feature. Well done, me.
Then I overhauled my query. I cut my prologue and sent another wave 4 months later.
A lot of nothing again. I remembered the timeline feature on query tracker. I looked my queries up and cried a lot.
I am currently waiting for a buddy to get query ready to yeet the last of the possible queries.
Why all at once? Because it helps me. I feel I have done all I can. It is not up to me any longer. The ball is in the agents’ court.
And that frees my headspace up. I can stop thinking about it. Because I did all I can. As long as I feel there is something I can /do/ I will never stop fretting over it. Once all possible queries are out, I only have to react. If I get a pass, I move on to the next agent in the agency if there is one. If I get anything else –
There’s also new agents I come across in my writing communities. I add those dutifully (research your agents, peeps! Get the tea before it’s too late!) to my list and yeet if possible. Then it’s back to waiting. (And by now writing because I just decided to write the most self-indulgent thing as palate cleanser.)
I won’t lie. There’s bad days and very bad days when it feels completely hopeless. And while I love my peeps getting agents left and right, there is days it only increases the desperation. Sometimes I feel, it’s never gonna be me.
Unfortunately, my bad days are usually triggered by somebody else making it (and YAY for them! I mean it. I can congratulate and cry at the same time.) so I usually just sit it out on my own. Not healthy I guess. But really, I’ve had enough parades rained on (or worse, ignored) to Not Do That.)
I try to keep busy and not think about it. I try to minimize it. After all, if all else fails I can always self-pub. (Or not seeing how much energy, time and money it takes to get it right.) I am actually kinda liking the horribly long waiting times because nothing is decided and hope is still out there and I do not have to do a thing.
It’s exhausting, still. I don’t know what I’ll do if Sava doesn’t make it. I keep telling myself that my writing friends won’t drop me just because I can’t score an agent. And then there’s the days where it doesn’t really matter because who’d notice anyway if I just stopped existing? 🤷♀️
Don’t do that, though. It’s called suicidal ideation and it is Bad™.
What does help is actually finding something completely else to do. May be a bad writer, but you can’t argue with 4964 tees and sweaters that I am getting something done. My cosplays may be far from screen accurate but they are recognisable and I bled on each of them while sewing. So I do still feel a thing.
Wow, this turned into a long ramble. Not sure I said enough about how I deal, actually? Probably because I mostly just don’t. 😅
I yeet my yeets and wait for the deets. It’s all I can do, all I have the energy for.
Let’s get at this old bony bastard of writing advice. I’m not going into known things like:
1) It only works if you share the same background because – come on! Captain Obvious anybody? What do you think is going on if a happy guy wanders around his quarter handing out eggs dyed red?
2) It’s a relic from a time when Literature was written from and for white allo cishet middle class white men. (If you do not believe me, go read “Craft in the Real World” by Matthew Salessess.)
Instead, I will dive into my neurodiversity and what that does to y’all proudly showing me how your characters feel: I don’t believe you.
It’s that easy and that complicated.
I have masked for the longest time. When I was younger, I painfully learnt what the correct tells were for emotions, what the correct responses to other people were. It became important to show the correct image of what I wanted people to read.
Please take a moment with mere her to reflect how the showing something, especially if you do not want to, is called tells. Thank you.
Let’s move on. Of course, this can be used consciously as well. I can flit eyes around nervously, rub my fingertips, touch my hair. My voice is steel, my face is stone, and I am exuding nothing but calm concentration.
I know what I show.
I also know that inside, things are a completely different matter.
What does this mean for Show Don’t Tell? Easy. It means I don’t believe the Show part on its own. There is always the chance a character is reacting the way they are so the others will perceive them like this. There is always the chance, the reaction is a learnt response, a conscious deception, a performance of self-preservation.
I have myself done all of those things and then some. For somebody whose second nature is not showing what they actually feel, visible signs of emotions and reactions are a precarious information source at best.
It is my lived experience that the outward depiction of emotional reactions or reactions at all, is a carefully crafted construct.
It doesn’t matter how well crafted and detailed your show is. I will see A Show. I will see all the building blocks of a correct and socially acceptable reaction. If your character doesn’t tell me they mean it, there is no guarantee they are genuine. (Leaving aside unreliable narrators for the moment here because that is where things become really fun.)
It seems that many neurotypicals view learning body language and using it as a spy novel skill you acquire to bedazzle and manipulate. Many neurodiverse people learn it simply to survive. Without this skill, we don’t last a day. There is a running two-way translation going though our heads all day everyday turning the outside world into inside sense and translating myself into reactions the outside understands.
Apart from being utterly exhausting, it also makes super sensible to mood and tensions. It is sometimes called a sixth sense. When you have to observe every minuscule detail to derive the correct meaning, you see a lot more of them.
Do I shut this down when I read or write? I think not. How can I? It is how the world works for me. (Apart from a few select fellow nds. ‘allo frens!) it’s alike to asking if you shut down your eyesight for stories. How can you? It is an important part of how you perceive the world!
Naturally, this feeds back into my reading. I see your character’s reaction, but if you don’t confirm the truthfulness of it, I will reserve judgement and if the signs I know align, just know they are not, in fact feeling the way they present themselves.
It also definitely plays into how I write. My characters will show all kinds of reactions. And I will assume that, since it is obvious they only show a thing, the reader knows there is a great possibility they feel something else entirely. Even if they don’t admit it (not even) to themselves.
This leads to a great disconnect between how I am told stories need to be written and how I need stories to be written to reflect my reality.
I want to know and love the characters I read about. But how am I supposed to do that, when they rarely show their true self to me? How can you tell me that my characters should not open themselves to the readers? That they never allow a glance under their armour? That they must not be vulnerable and true?
TL’DR, as somebody trained to display the correct responses, to me showing will always be a smokescreen to hide behind.
There is a lot of talk about plot, plotting and story structure right now. So have my take that absolutely nobody asked for. It is mainly, you do you and make sure it looks shiny. 😊
For many years I did my best to learn how to plot correctly and, in that process, completely scrambled the three-act-structure. In consequence, I now think of some projects in thirds, though it is not guaranteed that each third is equal in words and content to the others. It’s a third in my mind that that is where the ‘plotting’ happens.
What I am trying to say is, that over time, I had to learn that story structure as taught does nothing for me but confuse and frustrate me. I am very certain that stories have a structure and that knowing what it is helps you write them. What I am also certain of is that you have to do you here.
So, look at Horny WIP with me which most definitely has thirds. Like, three parts and they are definitely, well, ok. The first third has about 13k, the second around 45k and the last third has 18k. Makes sense, right?
But this is how thirds work for me in writing. Three acts – beginning, middle, end. I think somebody may have forgotten to tell me that those are not supposed to be the same length? (Are they? Halp! 😭)
Anyways, for me, a third contains a certain part of the story that I deem necessary.
Part 1: This is where we get to know the characters, what they want, how that intersects with the other character’s wants. How they decide or are forced to be in contact. Part 2: Where the characters achieve what they think they want only to realise that it wasn’t this at all. The decision to work together for real to get what they really want and defeat the Final Boss. Part 3: Where the characters beat the Final Boss and live happy ever after.
Example Space Wizards: Part 1: Naida & Zeko are introduced, their unrelated goals are shown and how they can use each other to achieve them Part 2: Following their goals, both achieve them only to find it is not what they actually want and they find the Final Boss. Part 3: They work together and defeat the Final Boss.
Example Horny WIP: Part 1: Salma and Samson are introduced and how they are at odds with each other. Ends with finding something they have in common. Part 2: They get close to each other (aka they bang a lot) and realise who the Final boss is. Part 3: they defeat the Final Boss and live horny ever after
If I want a story to make more sense parts-wise, I tend to use a device of my own making because it is neatly tailored to how I think about story progress.
Mel’s Amazingly Accurate Chart of Story Structure*
As you can see, even breaking it down to steps I have two different kinds of beginnings that, in my head, are a different structure because they need different things.
Returning to Horny WIP.
1: Let’s finish this: Salma and Daniel finish a job and get an assassin thrown into the mix 2: Brave New World: Life and Job are different with an assassin thrown in the mix 3: You Asked For an Additional Problem?: Oop, Assassin is in love with Salma 4: I Did Not But I’ll Deal: Salma falls in love with the assassin, too 5: VICTORY! (oh, no…): They accept they belong together and trigger the Final Boss into action 6: Course Correction: Planning to kill The Final Boss 7: BOOYA!: Final Boss is dead, but so is the assassin 8: We’re Done Here: He not dead, of course!
Now the steps tell me clearly what will have to happen to get me to the next stage. Without assassin, he can’t complicate life and fall for my protag. If he doesn’t fall in love, neither can she, and if they don’t decide to live their relationship, the Final Boss doesn’t get involved and I don’t get my showdown. Clear as dumplings.
Plot is how I structure a story to make it make sense. So I guess it makes sense if other people’s structures don’t work for me much because they are not inside my head and what I have to help me sort my way will probably not help them in return.
Another thing that is not helping me is that I am very accepting of plot structures. I do not need or even want beats that tell me where I am. My pattern recognition is a high performer and I hate it when a book tells me what is going on by relying on traditional structure. (Yes, this happened and I did not approve.)
On the other hand I am somewhat looking forward to people pointing out how I rely on tried and tested plot structures once my books are out.
Heads work different. As long as it works, we should be fine. 🤷♀️