Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Tell No One...

If I'm teaching a How to Get Published or How to Write a Novel course I always start by discovering what genre people are writing in, so I know if I need to include any genre-specific info.  Most people say they're writing contemporary women's fiction, or sci fi, or thriller - whatever - and leave it at that, but there's always someone who launches into describing what happens in the story.  Arghh!  No!  Stop!

You should never ever ever tell someone the plot of your novel unless they're an agent or editor and have just asked.  (And even then it shouldn't be a blow by blow description but a pitch - but that's for another post.)  

Why the sweeping embargo?

A friend of mine confessed that after their partner left them, they kept telling people they met their story.  Strangers at the bus stop, friends at parties, family get-togethers...it didn't matter who or where.  After a while they started to notice people's eyes glazing over, and a little bit later they realised they were boring themselves, let alone others.  They stopped having the need to tell their story (which was probably a good thing for them - and those around them).  

Story tellers want to communicate to others.  More than that, they need to communicate.  Until they've communicated their story, they can't rest.  But once they've told their story enough times, the desire goes.  As a writer, you are a story teller.  But the form of communication you're using is words on a page, not speech.  

Writing a novel takes a lot of time and dedication.  You're writing 80,000-100,000 words - that's a serious commitment. If you tell your story to people, you dissipate the desire to tell your story on the page.  Eventually you may even become bored with the story you were telling, at which point you will stop writing altogether.  

So keep it to yourself.  If friends and family ask, simply tell them you'd rather not say.  If they persist, you could always say that you're hoping they're going to buy a copy when it comes out, so you don't want them to know the plot before.  Remember - tell no one...


8 comments:

Liz Fielding said...

The first book I ever read about writing, written by Pamela Frankau and, I think, called Pen to Paper - described this happening to her.

A story wasn't working and someone asked her to tell her about it and she thought it might help. After a while she saw his eyes glaze over and it killed it stone dead for her. She never finished a book which she might, given time, have sorted out.

Jim Murdoch said...

I agree totally. When I handed my wife my last novel all she knew about it was that it was called Left and that it was a woman getting to know her father after his death by going though the things in his flat, what he had left behind, including her, of course. And that was it. I think some people online talk way too much about their works in progress. I couldn’t do it. Once I’m sure that I’ve started my sixth novel I’ll change the note on my blog to say that I’ve now started it but that will be about it. I’ve never been one for talking about what I’m working on. I usually talk about not wanting to jinx it but as I don’t believe in stuff like that I think I’ll adopt your expression about not wanting to “dissipate the desire to tell your story on the page.”

Sarah Duncan said...

I haven't heard of that book Liz, but what a tale of warning! It also shows how vulnerable we can be to disapproval at the wrong moment.

Jim, I hadn't thought of people telling their story online. That sounds like a recipe for disaster - not only are you dissipating the energy, but you're dissipating your writing energy. A double whammy.

Liz Fielding said...

You are far too young, Sarah! I did check on Amazon and there are old copies still available. I borrowed mine from the local library - but was a big fan of Pamela Frankau and actually bought a few of books. Some have since been repub'd by Virago, but I haven't re-read. Suspect they may be dated and don't want to spoil the magic memory.

Penny said...

I think, maybe, it has to be a little like someone - anyone, but most particularly Other People - thinking you might be remotely interested in a retelling of their previous night's dream. Nope. Unkind, but there it is. With WIP, I might just mention its setting, if asked, but after that, nowt unless asked again...

Sarah Duncan said...

Liz, I know just what you mean about not revisiting beloved books in case they've dated.

Penny, do you mean people aren't really interested in my dreams???? You're right, it is the same, and for v similar reasons.

Alison Morton said...

Agree. I've taken a long time to develop my book's world, the theme/premise so I'm a little jealous of it.

But more importantly, if people aren't writers, after their polite enquiry, you see the MEGO* effect creep into their faces.

Always better to intrigue than reveal...

*My Eyes Glaze Over

Sarah Duncan said...

I see you know you have to spell these things out to me Alison. I'm intrigued now by your theme/premise - why don't you tell me about it....