A new adaptation of Tsugumi Ohba‘s Death Note is now available on Netflix. It’s a relatively short version of the much longer manga which attempts to summarize the story into an hour and forty minute live-action film.
If you’re not familiar with the story, the idea is that a Death God (or Shinigami in Japanese) grants a Death Note to a high school student who then uses it to exact his own brand of justice by killing criminals. The note is a book that kills anyone whose name is written in it.
The theme that follows discusses the nature of good and evil, as it pits Light (the boy with the note) against L, a young detective tasked with catching him (pictured above).
The film is getting a lot of flack, and much of it is inspired by the disdain people have for replacing the main character with a white guy. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me at all. Go ahead, call me a racist. The fact of the matter is that this version is a new version, set in America, for American audiences and most high school males in America are white.
The director also chose to recast L as a black teen, and in this he couldn’t have made a better choice. Lakeith Stanfield (of recent Get Out fame, he was the guy in the opening scene who gets captured, and later screams the films title at the protagonist) as L does an amazing job, capturing the quirkiness of L and adding his own twist as the plot of the film changes to demonstrate what happens when L loses his cool.
Both boys do an excellent job capturing the essence of their characters, and while this version is obviously a retelling with much changed from the original, both characters still retain much of their original personalities. That said, there are clear differences. In the original, both L and Light were way more complex, intelligent, and calculating. As someone who’s watched the original cartoon and Japanese live-action adaptations, it’s obvious that this is a completely new version and the characters are different. Light was a bit darker and much more cunning, in this version a lot of those darker aspects are embodied by his girlfriend, Mia.
I’m okay with that. Naturally you can’t take the complexities and complete personalities from characters who have multiple mangas or 30+ episodes and port them over to a ~1.5 hour film. You can’t keep everything, and a lot must be left on the cutting room floor, that’s the nature of adapting a work across mediums. This is also a retelling in which much of the story is completely different. So please, spare me your cries of “OMFG THEY CHANGED X,Y,Z ::RAGE::”
We also have to acknowledge that there’s a huge chunk of hella sensitive social-justice types who were going to pan the film just because there’s a white guy in Light’s shoes. Guess what kids – that’s racist. I also find it incredibly hypocritical that when you recast a minority as another minority that’s fine, but when you recast one as a white guy the temper tantrum potential on Twitter goes sky high.
“White people are the oppressors! Victimization! Colonialism!”
No, actually psychopaths are the oppressors and they exist across all races. Go read a book. They also use moronic, uniformed and incredibly emotional kids like yourselves in order to co-opt large social movements and turn them into vehicles of more oppression. Prime examples are the Nazi takeover of Germany and the Soviet revolution in Russia, but I digress.
The film itself is well-paced, with excellent performances. The script does have one major plot hole – Ryuk’s name appears in the note in a warning scrawled by a previous keeper. That should have killed Ryuk. Later, Light and Ryuk have a disagreement and Light threatens to scrawl his name in the book, Ryuk tells us that no one has ever gotten more than two letters… obviously a contradiction. Not sure why they didn’t fix that.
Other than that, the rest of the film flows pretty well. The plot is solid and moves along without lagging. The cinematography is excellent with lots of amazing shots. The use of water and rain really plays into the mood of the film and elaborates on the characters feelings. The music is really trippy and gives the film an 80s vibe which has been common since Stranger Things did it. The ending is rather nebulous, which lets us imagine what happens for ourselves and also leaves the possibility for a sequel, which I doubt we’ll see given the current climate.
The major thing viewers seem incapable of doing is seeing this as a stand-alone version of the story. It’s different. It’s compressed, simplified, and it was naturally not going to be the same as the manga, the cartoon, or the Japanese live-action series. If you want a version more true to the original, watch those. This version gives us a glimpse of an Americanized retelling and also cuts down on the amount of time you need to dedicate toward watching it.
I had fun watching it, others will too.
Rachel Maddow has become somewhat of a neoliberal icon. She specializes in short diatribes of digestible information partnered with a narrative which paints a picture in the minds of her viewers. The problem with Maddow is that the pictures she’s been painting recently are Deep State propaganda.
Take a look at her show from 3/7/17 – Big News Day she says, zero mention of Vault7/Year 0 wikileaks releases which basically vindicated everything conspiracy theorists and privacy advocates have been warning about for nearly a decade.
What does she talk about instead? Bad news for the republicans! Their health plan sucks. This is non-news, everyone was well-aware that their healthcare plan going to be terrible. Anything short of universal, free healthcare is just another layer of bureaucracy.
“Flabbergasting news that makes no sense whatsoever about what this administration is doing about immigrants. This appears to be a giant screw up on the administration’s part that nobody can explain.” That’s vague as all hell, might as well not even say it at all, except if you want to make Trump look bad. Hint: she does.
Some good news about journalists doing their job, despite how difficult is it for the free press… maybe that’s Vault 7?
Then she goes into a monologue about an embassy. She’s careful not to jump on the fact that it’s Russian before elaborating on how big it is. Why does she do that? Well, it’s an attempt to give you the impression that the Russians are some super-huge network of evil conspirators (like the CIA and our mainstream media, projecting much Rachel?)
Gasp! A new guy was installed as the economics head there, and she immediately launches into conspiracy theory territory about why the old one was replaced. Let’s be clear, this is a classic conspiracy theory, the very same type of theory I get lambasted for every time I suggest 9-11 was an inside job. Key difference, there’s evidence 9-11 was an inside job, there’s no evidence Russia had a hand in our election results, but I digress.
Then she references the sketchy Russian dossier which has been discredited as an MI6/CIA psyop originally funded by disgruntled republicans who wanted to end Trump’s bid for the presidency.
Maddow and her Deep State compatriots are attempting to bring it back to the table by hammering on details that hardly matter. This is the key point, Maddow is resurrecting the Russian Dossier, she’s on the attack. This is a strategic move to put Trump back on the defensive after his revelation that Obama ordered wiretaps. True or not, we haven’t seen any evidence for that either, but Obama did have the means and he had the motive. Heck, even the NYT referenced Trump wiretaps so it’s quite likely they did occur.
Let’s say Maddow’s train of thought is accurate. This guy was responsible for doling out money to ‘Russian hackers’ running the ‘bots’ that drove up news favorable to Trump and toxic for Hillary. I just rolled my eyes there. We didn’t need bots or hackers to do that, Hillary’s toxicity was plain as day. She was infested with scandal. Plagued by controversy and her hawkish stance on Iran and Syria made her very dangerous to global stability. Even IF it’s true – so what? It doesn’t invalidate our election results in the slightest.
Speaking of Hillary, take a guess how many foreign dignitaries and governments contributed to getting Hillary elected. Ask yourself how many billions of pay-for-play dollars went into coffers at the Clinton Foundation, she was basically selling US Foreign policy to the highest bidder. Maddow has no words on that topic, and there’s one we have evidence for. Now THAT is a scandal! The head of the US State Department arming terrorists at the behest of foreign governments in exchange for cash donations? Nary a mention from Maddow.
Alrighty, then back to the whole ‘Russia hacked our election’ – another baseless narrative exposed as a psyop. She doesn’t mention Seth Rich, the DNC staffer who was shot dead in the wee hours of July 10th, 2016. Many folks believe him to be the source of the Clinton-Podesta email leaks, heck there’s even an email in which Podesta promises to ‘make an example’ of the leaker. Interpret that how you will in the wake of his unsolved murder.
She doesn’t mention the Vault 7 release in which it’s shown that CIA uses Russian hacking software in order to create a false-flag cyber attack leaving Russian fingerprints. She completely neglects the fact that several election authorities reported hacking being traced back to the DHS, not Russia (which was never explained btw). One of those authorities did disclaim the allegations saying that the invasion of their system was routine however.
Are we seeing a pattern here? Maddow is brilliant at lying by omission, she crafts the same narrative that her pals at the CIA pushed via the Washington Post and the New York Times… that Russia tampered with our elections. Again, no mention of that fact that the US regularly (and with impunity) interferes in the elections of sovereign nations or outright destroys their government (Iraq, Libya, Ukraine all cases in point). It’s all about EEEEEEVIL RUSSIA! You can even hear the delight in her voice when she calls Kalugin “too big a breadcrumb.” The smile she wears as she says it at the 7 minute mark reeks of duping delight.
Then she references an ‘angry short email interview’ where Kalugin denies everything, she makes sure to weigh her voice down with skepticism so that you get the impression that his denials are false, and then references more anonymous insiders who claim he was ‘under scrutiny when he departed.’
How many times do I have to say it: anonymous insiders cannot be trusted. Let’s repeat that, anonymous insiders cannot be trusted. Once more: ANONYMOUS INSIDERS CANNOT BE TRUSTED.
But why Brently? Why can’t we trust anonymous insiders? Well, Dear Reader, the reason is quite simple. Anyone in an intelligence or counterintelligence position, like at the CIA for example, can leak partial details which give an inaccurate impression for the purpose of swaying public opinion. Those details may be true, they may be entirely made up, in either case they are still designed to have a very specific impact and if you start looking for it you can see the intent behind these propaganda pieces.
There’s also the fact that without the gravitas of whistleblower status, you cannot verify anything. Thus anything leaked in this manner is hearsay, it’s rumor, it’s propaganda. If you accept it uncritically (the way Maddow encourages) you get a picture in your head, or a narrative which is based on incomplete information at best or outright lies at worst and in both cases it’s designed to MANIPULATE you.
Back to Maddow, she rants for another two minutes about how Kalugin being out of investigator’s grasp is big deal, and reminds her viewers of the ‘huge national security scandal looming over this presidency.’
Puh-lease. You want to talk about national security? Let’s talk about our crumbling infrastructure, police violence, lack of adequate jobs, healthcare, education for millions of Americans. Nah, Maddow is just another talking head in the chorus of CIA-sponsored media hacks scapegoating Russia or Russian actors while ignoring any culpability or criminality by democratic and republican big wigs. That’s completely ignoring #Pedogate/#Pizzagate and the arrest of 1,500 pedophiles since Trump took office. NBD.
That’s the name of the game folks, divide and conquer. Distract. Create so much noise that it drowns out everything else you don’t want attention focused on. It’s pretty clear that major media wants us to focus on the Russian Dossier – which should behoove anyone with a critical thinking capacity to look carefully at everything else that is happening concurrently that is NOT being discussed.
She continues to beat this dead horse with more leaked quotes from anonymous insiders who claim that ‘the information is bearing out.’ Now we have rumor verifying rumor, it’s like Rumor-ception. Classically, this stuff is what we would call propaganda.
Imagine for a second that our media is like a fun house. We walk inside and there are funny mirrors everywhere and we have no idea what’s real and what’s not. The only chance we have, the only way we can get any factual certainty is by 1.) only accepting information which we can verify into our cognitive schema, 2.) comparing everything else that comes out and 3.) reading between the lines.
You have to ask yourself what is the point of this story, why is it being pushed so hard, what are the purveyors of this information looking to achieve by promulgating it. Maddow reveals this precisely when she states, “the bottom line of this dossier, the point of it, is that the Trump campaign didn’t just benefit from Russia interfering in our presidential campaign, the point of this is that they colluded, they helped, they were in on it. The money quote of this dossier is ‘the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team.'”
That’s the lie they want installed in the hearts and minds of Americans. Keep in mind, these same people were 100% behind Clinton during the election. Virtually all major media establishments were in bed with the Clinton campaign. If you want proof of that, just remember Donna Brazile. How about Stephen Colbert, tips of the proverbial iceberg. This shows us where the money was, especially that of the war hawks and CIA puppet masters.
Vault7/Year Zero was a huge release and we still don’t know everything that was contained within it. What’s clear is that the CIA can listen to any cell or internet device with a microphone, hack into encrypted messages and emails, even hijack cars with automated systems… wait a minute – that sounds eerily familiar... oh nevermind, probably just another one of Brently’s wild conspiracy theories.
If you don’t know who Michael Hastings was you may want to read this article and check out the links. It’s entirely possible, again we have means and motive, that the CIA assassinated an American journalist on American soil using advanced technology to hijack his car and crash it. Huge story, once the realm of internet forums and alternative news, having a factual basis revealed with the latest bout from Wikileaks.
Maddow can’t spare a moment to stop spouting anti-Russian propaganda and discuss these incredibly relevant issues. Her lies are lies of omission – and make no mistake – they are lies. When you are in a position of authority, when you have a voice like a TV show, what you don’t say is just as important as what you do, especially concerning major news of the day. In the first 15 minutes of her show, nada, zip, zilch.
That was all of it I watched admittedly. Eventually one tires of watching a dead horse repeatedly pummeled and make no mistake, any scapegoating of our problems on Russia is just that: propagandistic beating of a very dead horse.
Anthropomorphized animals convey the sociological challenges of diversity to kids and adults alike.
Judy Hopps is one tough bunny. From an early age, her only dream was to be a police officer and to help out her fellow animals. When she succeeds and moves to Zootopia she quickly discovers that no one believes in her, and being a cop – a real cop – requires more than just a naive wish to do good. Enter Nick Wilde, a sly fox with a good hustle who teaches Judy a thing or two about life in Zootopia.
Through the lense of these characters we watch as Judy learns that there are defined roles for different types of animals in society. All the animals have comically innate tendencies, but there are exceptions. While Predators and Prey get along peacefully, it’s difficult for any little bunny to be a cop. Foxes have a bad rap and get discriminated against because of it. Little mice, or voles, can be squashed easily due to their size or they can have immense influence and power over life and death.
As Judy works with Nick, we’re shown time and time again that what we think is not what necessarily happens. Reality is messy, and people are people. Sometimes they lie, sometimes they hustle, but if we want to get along we have to be willing to look past exterior appearances to get to know the individuals involved.
Zootopia is an action-packed allegorical discussion of American values and American politics. We see races from all over the world being crammed into a small city, and somehow everyone manages to get along. Living in NYC, the very same realization has hit me many times over the years, and it’s always an endearing reminder of the inherent good that resides within most people.
~MINOR SPOILER ALERT~
Unfortunately, there are always other people who are somehow attempting to divide us and pit us against one another. In Zootopia, we see this through a conspiracy to use a plant-derived chemical cocktail to drive predators “savage.” When exposed these predators become mindless, hungry, and aggressive – similar to their ancestral state.
Thankfully, Judy is on the case and with help from Nick they eventually are able to figure out whodunnit and why. I’m not gonna spoil it completely. 😛
It’s weirdly applicable now, more than ever and maps pretty well to Western demonization of Islam and Muslims. What we see in both the film, and in real life, is that powerful people are able to conspire in secret in order to influence the political discussion. Certain subjects are met with joking derision, certain opinions unspeakable. Protesters have been physically assaulted – attacked – by liberal rational academic types for disagreeing – rather animalistic behavior you can see in some of these videos.
The use of animals going savage represents tendencies towards interpreting reality through the lense of bias without pause for reflection and critical thinking. The immediate effect is an emotional reaction and no wee one either.
Without the capacity to pause, consider, discuss and reflect upon new information, it’s impossible for any man or woman to come to a conclusion, and when confronted they attack – much like the savage predators in Zootopia who’ve been juiced up with a mysterious chemical cocktail.
In the film, animals can manage to get along, even when one species used to be food for another. In real life, humans can achieve peace amongst ourselves when we can share perspectives across social and cultural boundaries. The only caveat is that we have to willing to have a dialogue. We have to be willing to consider that our political ideas aren’t the only valid position. Without discussion we’ll retreat into our own political echo chambers which will lead us into being corralled into antagonistic camps, effectively divided and conquered. Instead, we should be will to try everything. 🙂
A few more tips from the Writer’s Digest Conference, this event was a literal gold mine for myself and as I keep going through my notes and working on my stories I feel compelled to share what I’ve learned.
Jordan Rosenfeld gave a presentation called ‘Getting Intimate with your characters’ which I found very useful. Nothing mind-blowing, but common-sense tips that basically explain what is it that good authors do to make their characters come alive on the page.
- Describe their breathing, their heart rate, any gastric distress
- What’s the scent dominating the scene?
- The temperature
- Engage the senses with active verbs
- Is the character nervous? Is their voice wavering? Stuttering? Hand-shaking, involuntary tics and twitching
- Texture & Shape of visuals, Shadow and Light, use them to describe the mood of the scene and contribute to the emotional impact
- Description of what the character is seeing and experience can set the tone for a scene or act as foreshadowing
- Ground your character in the scene, 2 paragraphs of description without the character responding emotively is too much
- Break up your dialogue with descriptions, use them to add input or to show us how the character is feeling in response to the conversation
Good descriptions can also inform us about the character, especially in those early chapters where you want to tell us everything about them. All of these work toward fixing a common novice error where the author tells us something instead of showing us. What that means is you’re telling your reader that Jimmy Joe Bob is a hick instead of describing his pickup truck decked out with a confederate flag and a gun rack. Let the reader draw their own conclusions.
You can further use descriptions to show us about their inner life, what their motivations are and the problems they’re facing. Different locations look different to different characters and that can highlight traits that may crop up later as your story progresses. It’s a great way to lay groundwork in order to advance your plot and make the characters choices more real and understandable.
An engineer, versus a medical professional or a high school student flipping burgers will see things and notice things differently. A characters backstory shapes their view of the world. What are their hobbies and interests? What a character does informs what they notice.
The last big tip from Jordan was to make scenes unique. Characters do repetitive behaviors and we have to find ways as authors to keep the plot moving. Find settings that are unique to the characters, if you’re starting a story or working on something just brainstorm three different settings in their life that inform us about the character’s life.
I’ll add in here a tip from FilmCritHulk, make a character sheet. Basically you chart out your character on one page. Everything from physical to psycho-spiritual traits, as well as their relationships, wants, and needs as a person. If you want a deeper explanation, I linked a blog post there which goes into the details.
A lot of the talks at the conference had to do with improving your writing, imagine that? In this post I’ll breakdown Paula’s talk on really making your first ten pages hook your readers.
The First Ten Pages – Paula Munier
That opening scene has to grab your reader’s attention, if it doesn’t they won’t keep reading. We also need to think about how books are bought, if it’s not word of mouth, and it usually is, typically the cover, the back of the book, and the first few lines are what sell. Agents, editors, and publishers also tend to look at the first 140-250 characters which is only 1-2 sentences before deciding that your work interesting or passing on it.
Paula also said that agents will skip the query and only come back to it if the sample catches their interest. So how do you make those first ten pages pop and come to life?
- Something has to happen, the story must begin
- It has to be unique, either in voice, content or style while also being familiar enough that the reader can relate and has some idea what to expect
- All fiction should be written with a strong voice which inspires confidence. This helps the reader connect with the characters and tells them what kind of story they’re getting into.
- Dialogue should be realistic, if it comes out as unbelievable you’ll lose the reader
- There should be emotional content, you want to evoke emotion in your readers
- It should be edited for grammar, punctuation and spelling. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but a sloppy manuscript makes a reader’s job more difficult which is the opposite of what a good writer does.
- Your prose should be clean, clear and concise
Let’s talk about the action. Your first ten pages needs to have something happen and that something should be interesting. No one wants to read ten pages where the character gets out of bed, makes coffee, eats breakfast and goes to work. Action provides the narrative thrust, it’s the engine that drives your story forward. Cause and effect are powerful here and really that’s the basis of every good story. A causes B but then C happens which leads us to D which pushes us to E, etc.
We also need to see the premise of your story in the first ten pages, the premise sets the foundation and explains to the reader what the story is about. It’s the ground on which you build the rest of your story.
Paula also said it’s important to have a big idea, this could be a theme or angle that is unique to your work, the sooner you introduce that, the better.
Then we talked about USP – Unique Selling Proposition, this is what makes your story yours. It can be explained in a logline, a one or two sentence summary, or it can be a comparison of your work to another title(s). This answers the question what is your book about and hints at the content.
- Seaquest was Star Trek in the oceans
- Games of Thrones is basically War of the Roses in a fantasy setting
Basically, what makes your book stand out? It can be your voice as a narrator or the point-of-view: The Lovely Bones (2002) as an example, is narrated by a young woman who was raped and murdered as she watches her family struggle to move on.
- Setting can be unique, a place we’ve never been or a familiar place with a new twist
- Characters that you love to follow, whether you like them or hate them
Action, conflict, and dialogue work together to drive a story forward and keep the reader invested so how do you keep the reader reading?
- Structure: each scene has to have an arc
- Present your theme early on, either in the first line or in the first few pages
- Avoid starting with the weather unless it’s bad and challenges or hinders the hero
- Avoid prologues unless it’s super critical and informs the main action. If you go with a prologue, don’t call it a prologue. You can use a time/place instead or simply state ‘Before’ or ‘Yesterday’
- Don’t open with a dream, it’s cliche
- Don’t start with them alone unless they’re doing something compelling
- Show your hero in ACTION
- No opening phone calls, text messages, skype calls, etc.
Given all that, it’s fine to break any of the rules but when you do there must be a point to it. It’s better for debut authors to follow them. We also want to leave out anything boring that the reader may be tempted to skip.
Lastly, Paula suggested we clean up:
- Overwriting – “kill your darlings”
- Interior monologues – make them concise and poignant
- Cliches – best way to knock your reader out of the spell of your text
- Weak verbs
- Dialogue tags
- POV changes
You want to make things easy on the reader and you want to keep them enthralled with your text. The object is to keep them turning the page. If you can do that for the first ten pages, you can likely keep it up for the rest of your novel.
In this post I want to focus on the talks that taught me useful bits on making writing a career. My last post plays into that as it gives excellent advice on querying but this post is going to focus more on mechanics and your behavior.
Go Hybrid or Perish – Vincent Zandri
Vinnie gave us some personal insight by describing his life’s story. It was incredibly educational. In short, he was doing a lot of variety in his writing. He wrote copy, magazine articles, short stories, and had relationships with editors across a variety of platforms. When he finally got his big break and published his first novel, he scored big: a quarter of a million dollar advance. The figure blew my mind as it did his.
He thought he made it, he stopped writing copy, stopped doing articles and quit with all the small stuff. He no longer thought it was necessary. Shortly thereafter reality came crashing down around him when his first book flopped. He had to reconstruct his career from the bottom up, just to stay afloat. That’s why he suggests folks who want to make this their career, who feel writing is their calling, must go hybrid.
A hybrid author writes a variety of material on a variety of subjects. They write daily and keep a steady output of material.
He mentioned some good tools, Kindle Direct Publishing lets you get stories out directly to your readership. The more you have, and the more you publish, the better marketing Amazon provides you with. Each story also becomes it’s own income stream, along with any other content you’re generating, the small streams from individual projects will add up. They also don’t have to be long, I’ve seen short stories up quite frequently.
Scrivener is another good tool for organizing yourself and working out ideas, or just collecting notes and research. Also the low price tag of $40 makes it affordable.
Kboards.com is basically a digital writer’s cafe. Having trouble with your opening? What about the end? Need help with your queries? Basically it’s a free place to go and get criticism from other writers. You could spend thousands on hiring a professional editor or you can make friends and swap stories online. It’s also a good place to troubleshoot technical issues.
On Writing and Publishing with Emily St John Mandel
I’m just gonna throw this out there, Emily was ADORABLE… and I’m not even into women. She was charming, polite and insightful as she discussed her experience with writing and becoming a bestselling author. If you’re into dystopian fiction her latest novel, Station Eleven, is an award-winning hit and international bestseller.
Emily discussed literature as a way to reclaim identity, as a home that we can return to during times of upheaval or if physically returning to your home is impossible for whatever reason. She had some great advice.
- You must write and you must finish
- Be ruthless with your writing time, learn to say no to social engagements, and feel no guilt when lying about why you can’t attend
- Learn to write wherever and whenever you have the time. If you can only write during sunny weather with the wind blown from the west and the temperature at a cool sixty-eight degrees this may be more of a hobby and less of career for you.
- Solving problems makes you a better writer, embrace them
- A compelling query and solid samples matter more than networking and having that MFA – in other words anyone can break in
- Being nice and friendly is worth it – no one wants to work with snooty, obnoxious writers
- Embrace uncertainty while retaining your confidence – try your best and let the chips fall where they may. If you’re not happy with the outcome, pick yourself up and try again.
Great stuff, right? The whole while she was super encouraging even though she’d never read anything any of us in the audience had ever written. It was inspiring and insightful and I really appreciated her candor.
This series is going to cover what I learned in the individual talks I attended during the Writer’s Digest Conference (#WDC16). I’ll try to keep them to 1-2 pages and summarize the most pertinent information. Comment and share to your hearts content!
Pitch Perfect – Chuck Sambuchino
This session was geared toward those of us participating in Pitch Slam (basically speeding dating for writers and agents). Chuck outlined some specific logistics, but he also gave some really good advice on pitching in general.
- Agents are looking for good stories that are well-written, in other words if you want to be a writer you need to practice your craft and read a lot
- A pitch is basically your query letter in conversation and you can practice this anytime, anywhere, with anyone – DO IT! Costs nothing and can only help you
- Introduce your characters and the conflict
- Never reveal endings
- Be confident, relaxed, and SMILE!
- When comparing to other titles in your genre avoid the big names (Harry Potter, LotR, GoT, etc.)
- What’s interesting about your characters? What do they want?
- Mention the inciting incident (what kicks off the story)
- Set the stakes and describe any interesting complications
- Unclear wrap up – avoid rhetorical questions (Will Jimmy save the day?)
- Avoid generalities, specifics bring a pitch to life
- Avoid subplots
- Paint pictures, make it visual
Not only was Chuck hilarious and friendly, he gave really good advice. I highly recommend examining his work online as he has a plethora of articles as well as sample query letters that worked and landed debut authors agents.
Zach and Jennifer gave us an excellent roundup of quick tips and tricks in order to get yourself out of the slush pile and on your way towards getting published in magazines.
First and most important: do it. Publishing in magazines can only help you in your writing career. If you want to focus on writing in a specific area or genre it’s a great way to do research for a larger piece and get some experience.
Secondly, get a copy of the magazine (you should really read any magazines you want to query) and pitch the editor responsible for that particular section. Often you can discover the email formula for the magazine and then fill in the data to get the email address for the person you want to query. For example, if you know Barbara Johnson’s email is BJohnson@variety.com and you can’t find Todd Clark’s email, try TClark@variety.com
Media Bistro can also be a useful tool in this regard, it gives regular interviews with editors which lets you have access to the inside scoop on what they’re looking for and memberships are variable depending on what your needs are. Their paid memberships (they have free ones) only run $55/year.
Never attach anything to your emails, guaranteed way to get deleted before they even read your message. Zach put up his collection of tips for queries on his website.
Mention anything you’ve published or any relevant expertise you may have.
Always address your query to a person, never general Dear Sir or To Whom it may concern
Always ask for more money, at the very least know what you’re getting paid and other details like due date, word count and any paperwork you need to fill out/sign.
Also know if the piece will be First Rights or All Rights, basically whether they own the piece for ever and always or if they can only have the rights to publish it once and afterward ownership returns to you.
That’s enough for one blog post. I don’t wanna make these TLTR, so enjoy the tips, leave your comments in the comments section, and come back in a few days to check out what else I learned.
Walking across scorching pavement, the humidity higher than a blunted teen, I raced my way across midtown to make Pitch Perfect – my first session for the annual Writer’s Digest Conference. It was hosted by the Midtown Hilton here in New York City and since I live around the corner it was very easy to get there. Only problem was I woke up a bit late. I raced down the stairs with my man purse flailing on my hip, packed with my notebook and a proof-copy of Twin Souls and some skittles. Luckily, I was only a few minutes late and the host of the talk, Chuck Sambuchino, barely noticed me among the hundreds of other writers in the room.
As a writer who has never been to one of these seminar-style events, I found the experience really rewarding. In two articles, I want to explain my impression as well as what I learned, loved and thought could use a little work.
Writer’s Digest puts out eight issues a year and it’s chopped full of pertinent information to help new and practiced writers refine and improve their craft. Here’s their most recent cover:
As you can see, they have authors and other industry insiders give tips, tricks and practical advice to help us improve specific aspects of our writing. The conference was basically a live, lecture-based version of the magazine and I enjoyed it so much I subscribed. I’ve also encouraged two fellow writers to sign up for the next conference, obviously I’ll be back.
They had an exhibition area with a mishmash of organizations and companies writers may find helpful. Createspace, Lulu, Your Book is Your Hook, and National Writers’ Union are a few examples. Each had a table that I browsed in between sessions, snagging pens, pins and Jolly Ranchers while exchanging cheerful tidbits with whomever was on duty.
I also signed up for Pitch Slam, which is basically speed-dating for writers and agents. Chuck primed us in his session on Friday, giving us the low-down on the session itself as well as what was expected of us as attendees. He was funny, apt and answered everyone’s questions with empathy. After that, I went home Friday night and rewrote my pitch until it was, well, perfect. I practiced repeatedly, cut out 20% of it in order to keep it under 90 seconds, and practiced more.
Waiting in line was the worst part. Collectively caffeinated, the line’s limbic resonance was high, making us all that much more nervous. The two girls in front of me were clearly jittery, so I introduced myself and suggested we pitch to each other. I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted practice or just to take my mind off of the ambient anxiety, but either way it worked.
I pitched to nine agents and eight of them wanted to hear more: twenty-five pages, ten pages, first three chapters, the whole manuscript, a hundred pages, the whole manuscript… I was thrilled with the reception Twin Souls had.
The one lady that politely told me she couldn’t sell it pointed me toward Dreamspinner Press, saying my type of story was all they published.
A bit blown away, I enjoyed the rest of the day elated with satisfaction that I gave great pitches and had email addresses and business cards of real agents who wanted more. I’m polishing the text a bit before sending it, obvi. I learned a few more tricks at the other talks which I’ll get into in my next article.
I also met a lot of other authors, friendly compatriots in the war for recognition. Their stories, kind words and companionship at the conference helped make the experience much more social and interactive. We bounced ideas off each other, congratulated and encouraged one another and shared meals and cocktails. It was as easy as saying hello, and just as my novel shows the experience of a group of characters, the conference reminded me that we are not alone. We are all sharing the journey and the struggle, the love for the craft and the perennial self-doubt that comes with being writers.