Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Moving On...

Okay, I've thought about the rejection letter and I am going to update my blog. Should I quote a piece of what Ms. Agent wrote me? Yeah, I should.

"Thanks so much for sending me NEW HOPE. I really enjoyed the story; it's well-plotted and entertaining. Unfortunately, I don't think the book grabs the emotions as much as it should. The characters feel emotionally distant. This is a common flaw with early manuscripts and I'm sure with continued work you'll master the technique. I'd be happy to take another look at your work at some point. I wish you the best as you continue down the road to publication!"

This is an amazing rejection letter. Now I really want this agent. Her sweet respect and encouragement make me just want her to sign me! I've listened to other author's opinions about what she meant, and I think I have an understanding. And guess what? She's SO right. I went back and read my first chapter. It's gripping and pulls you in, but you don't know what Eva is feeling. I show the story and in some ways I explain who she is as a result of her circumstances (being Jewish in Nazi occupied Germany), but I don't explain who SHE is as a person -outside of her circumstances and current life situation. What is her favorite color? Her favorite food? What does she do for fun? To relax? To vent?

As a doula, when I would interview a pregnant mommy so that I could know how to best help her during labor, I asked her pages and pages of personal questions. Where do you hold tension? What do you do to release the tension? Do you have areas on your body that you can't stand being touched? Do you like your head, feet, back rubbed? Which one would you prefer? And on and on. Does it matter that the mom may watch TV when she wants to relax? Not really. Not while she's in labor it doesn't because she wont be watching TV, but it tells me a little about her and how she unwinds so that I know that she prefers to work through her discomfort by being distracted rather than focusing on it. The answers the mommy gives me sheds light onto other areas of her life because as humans, our likes and dislikes are connected to how we perceive things and in turn to our reactions.

Yet, I didn't ask Eva (my main character) what her favorite color was!

Here's what I did to rectify my mistake. I joined A.C.F.W. and found a few character sheets with tons of questions to ask of my character. Right now, I'm working on filling them out and already I am seeing more layers to Eva, which is exciting. I added bits and pieces of her to the first chapter, but I'm sure I'll add more. I can't wait to really make her a person in my story. I had a friend read my manuscript a while ago and she said she loved it because she really felt like she was watching Eva's life unfold through a window. At the time I thought that was huge, but now I see I don't want my readers to watch it through a window. I want them to watch it through HER eyes. Through a deep connection with Eva. I hope I am able to make that happen.

Here's The Question: Have you done a character questionnaire for your main character? How do you add depth to your characters? If you're a reader, what in the story makes you feel connected to the characters?


  1. Rachel, this is wonderful! Way to learn from a situation. I love your positive attitude, teachable spirit, and perseverance. In this business, that may be more important than talent. I've seen some mega-talented writers who haven't made it because they gave up or refused to change.
    And yes, I LOVE character charts. They're my favorite part of pre-writing. I love how an innocuous question can open up a character. My favorite instance - for my third book, I got to the section on health. Had she had any major childhood illnesses? Boring, right? Nope. I realized she'd had polio, and that opened up her personality - this is a girl who works, works, works. Why? If she doesn't work hard, she'll never be good enough. Just as she was taught on the polio ward. Fun stuff :)

  2. Thanks so much Sarah! Yes, fun stuff. It's like spending quality time with a friend you already know, but then one day over a cup of coffee (or three) they share so much more about themselves. And you get to see how their mind works and why they do what they do, which to me is amazing stuff!

    Thank you so much for your encouragement. I've even told my mom about how much you've encouraged me along the way! And if I told my mom about you that means you're pretty special in my book. :) Well, not my actual book, but you know what I mean! Heheh.

  3. I just started the character worksheet, but I was reading a "Go Teen Writers!" blog, and Stephanie Morrill said that she follows James Scott Bell's advice to character journal.

    Take a pen, and a LOT of paper ask a question like, "How is your relationship with your mom?"
    And let the character take over. Journal for them in 1st person.

    I've learned a lot about my characters...and that they aren't who I thought they were.

    When I carefully considered what their archetype was, their beliefs and values, their answers turned out so much differently that I expected.

    They are becoming more than just cardboard characters.

    The Art of War for Writers is the book by James Scott Bell...I think...I'll have to research that one.

  4. Your story sounds fantastic and if I were you I would keep working on it. I can't wait to see it in print. I'll definitely buy it.

  5. Rachel, that IS a great rejection letter. She obviously read your work thoroughly and had an interest in you and you writing or it wouldn't have had such detailed suggestions. Thank you very much for the suggestion on a character questionnaire. I have never done that before, but I can see how it would be very beneficial.