Your mileage and why it varies

Dear Miss Snark,

Recently I attended a critique group hosted by an editor for a (Big Fuzzy) publishing conglomerate.

One of the stories edited began with the protag waking up. This editor suggested the writer scrap that and start with the end of the dream the protag was having. From there, the editor said, the writer could move on to the waking up part.

WTF? Do you guys communicate with each other over there?


I know this just stuns you but there are lots of people who like things that Miss Snark finds to be total crap. I need only say "Bridges of Madison County" to illustrate that point in full.

My crapometer is my opinion. Sadly, it does not have the force of law or even federal regulation. The world would be a better place of course were it so, but sadly, no.

When those form rejection letters say things like "query other agents cause opinions vary" they aren't saying it just to make you feel better.


Anonymous said...

Queen Snarkfertiti,

And all this time, I thought that I was the only one who didn't like THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

helen said...

Plus, of course, it depends on the story. I'm sure there's a story out there somewhere for which a dream sequence would be the perfect beginning. The problem is that there's also several thousand for which a dream sequence is dull, chiched and generally a bit naff.

Ryan Field said...

I know this just stuns you but there are lots of people who like things that Miss Snark finds to be total crap. I need only say "Bridges of Madison County" to illustrate that point in full.


Feisty said...

I was thinking about that very thing as I was reading the Crapometer. First thought that crossed my mind is how Agent Kristen seems to like a query letter that is much more detailed and reads like a synopsis. I actually did use a query on her site to model mine after but am thankful now that I didn't send it because I'm sure I would have been snarked because of its length.

Then I noticed that some of the stuff you disliked in YA would probably sell because it's right about where the market is right now. And since it's not your market, you probably wouldn't know that.

I know mileage does vary and it varies greatly. I've recently had one agent say, "Not my cup of tea to a partial," and another tell me that he just loved it so far and wanted to read the rest. Go figure!

But, well done, Miss Snark. You work very hard at raising the bar.

Janet Black said...

What most new-ish writers don't understand, is that editors, publishers, agents, successful authors - ALL of them have their own, individual opinions about what is good writing, good story-telling, etc. Ten rejections can mean #11 is the one. I believe in perseverence. I had a story rejected by Weird Tales magazine, who paid 3-cents per word, only to have that same story accepted by Hitchcock for 8-cents per word. You just never know. Go with your gut (after extensive classes and participation in a good writer's group.)

rick said...

I'll bet $ to dog bisquits the Snarkilator has taken on novels beginning with a dream. (Whether the dream survived in the end is another matter.)

I've been in three critique groups for the past five years while learning the writing craft and have done over 3K critiques, many stories beginning with dream sequences.

It isn't that a dream sequence can't work; but in general, most dream sequences don't work. Perhaps the editor of the Big Fuzzy publishing conglomerate ran across a decent dream sequence.

Dream sequences all to often seem to mask a weak opening chapter, teasing the reader with soomething unique only to die on the vine of unfulfilled expectations.

The only rule: writers write! Everything else is a guideline.

Kimber An said...

I think the reason many hate opening with a dream sequence is because it is so difficult to carry off! Think about it. You have to grab the reader's attention in the first sentence, the first paragraph, and certainly by the end of the first page, and then you have to hang on with a Vulcan Death Grip. That's hard! Couple that with making the dream sequence clear, shifting in and out of it, and so on, well, that's just so tough. Few can do it well. Kudos to you, if you can! I have no doubt a lot of agents and editers see the ones that sink into a mud fuddle too much.

anon also said...

Anonymous said... And all this time, I thought that I was the only one who didn't like THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY.

What? You haven't been reading this blog very long, then. It's been mentioned several times. The writing in that book sux.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I think I've used a dream sequence only once in a novel and it wasn't in the beginning of the story. It was in Chapter 4 and provided back story to show how the character came to his position as well as give him and several members of his crew added dimension to their personalities. Now I believe I'll try to avoid using one in the first chapter though I might yet come up with a story idea where it absolutely has to be at the beginning. I guess I'm saying go with whatever works for the story.

Bella Stander said...

As Miss Snark & many others have noted, agents are people too. And people's opinions vary. Who hasn't been in a book group where members have strongly disagreed about the quality/characters/plot/interpretation of a book? Or if not, argued about a movie with a bunch of friends over drinks? Or with a loved one? (Darling Husband loves "A Fish Called Wanda." I loathe it, though I like the actors in other movies, and of course Monty Python.)

Years ago, I was listening to the local public radio station, which had some guy reading a book aloud. It was absolutely the worst crap I'd ever heard. I listened through to the very end just to hear what this drek was. "And that concludes THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY by Robert James Waller," the guy intoned. I nearly died laughing.

xiqay said...

I didn't like Bridges of Madison County, either. I tried. I may even have read the whole thing.

So who did like it? Well, obviously the agent and editor!

Even though tastes vary, I am surprised to hear that fuzzy wuzzy editor of big publishing company would advise a dream sequence followed by waking up as an opening. sounds like a snooze to me.

mistri said...

Most of the time, there just isn't any good reason to begin with a dream instead of the story. If there is on, sure, it may work.

Lexie Ward said...

The Bridges of Madison County reads like the plot of a porno flick couched within the worst attempt at literary prose that I've ever had the misfortune to read. "The last cowboy" indeed. Bluck!

I've always wanted to express that sentiment. I feel much better now.

BuffySquirrel said...

It's always amusing to me that many writers have thoroughly convinced themselves (and others) that "[y]ou have to grab the reader's attention in the first sentence", yet there's hardly a one of them who's capable of doing it. What I find is that if a writer does grab attention in the first sentence, it's a form of cheating that's usually followed by them desperately back-pedalling away from that grabber line. I would love to quote a very fine example of this, but it wouldn't be fair on the author.

Let me instead quote the first line of this year's hot alternate history novel.

"The deck of the French ship was slippery with blood, heaving in the choppy sea; a stroke might as easily bring down the man making it as the intended target."

Are you hooked? Are you in a death grip? Or are you, like me, wondering if it's the deck or the blood that's heaving? And asking, what kind of stroke?

I confess; the writing in this book disappointed me. An awful lot of glossing, when I like scenes, and huge signposted foreshadowing that's never paid off on. But it has, yanno, DRAGONS.

pjd said...

"When those form rejection letters say things like "query other agents cause opinions vary" they aren't saying it just to make you feel better."

That's true. They're also saying it to make themselves feel better.

Stacy said...

I remember crying when I watched the movie, because it was old people in love, and it was Clint and Faye, and that always gets me. I read the book long after, but apparently made no impression.

There was some talk of bridges, I think. Maybe old bridges.