Busybird Publishing

We are a boutique micropublisher who releases a handful of titles yearly. We also have a self-publishing arm which can help you get your book out into the world!

First Impressions

Posted by on Aug 13, 2015 in Busybird | 0 comments

So you’re going to submit to a publisher, and have – according to the publisher’s guidelines – only a single chapter to hook them.

This first chapter is pivotal because it will be the publisher’s first impression of your book. You don’t make a great first impression, that will be it. They’ll either dismiss you, or you’ll be struggling to win their favour.

So how do you make your first chapter as tight and sparkling as possible?

Here’s some things to look out for …

 
Clichés
Cliches are phrases like, ‘In the blink of an eye’, ‘As quick as a flash’, ‘left me with a broken heart’, etc. They have become so overused in today’s vernacular that they’ve lost all meaning.

When you need to describe something – like the suddenness of something happening, or somebody dealing with the pain of a relationship breaking up – look for original ways to communicate what’s going on.

 
Overwriting
Writing is a field where less is more. Don’t take pages delving into a character’s emotional state, or describing a setting. If you’re trying to build up something awesome, don’t think spending one thousand words on it is going to make it any more awesome. All that happens here is you’re diluting what’s going on.

Use specific details and impress the reader with how distinct they are.

 
Predictability
It’s harder and harder to be original nowadays. Most stories have been done, so people know what to expect. For instance, the formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl live happily ever after isn’t going to cut it anymore. Now, more than ever, it’s become a case of how you go about your story. If it’s predictable, the reader will grow bored and switch off.

 
Bad Spelling and Grammar
It’s astonishing that so many writers won’t run a simple spellcheck. Reread your work and iron out issues with grammar. Get other people to read it.

It’s very hard to get into a piece of writing when you stumble on spelling errors or grammar issues. They jar the reader out of the writing, and shake their confidence in the author moving forward.

 
Repetition
As with overwriting, be wary of repeating yourself. If you’re describing a storm, you don’t have to tell us every sentence that thunder’s booming, lightning’s flashing, the wind’s howling, and the protagonist is cold. We get it. There’s a storm. Pounding it into us doesn’t make the storm any more ferocious.

Or the repetition might happen over pages (or chapters). On page one, you might explain how distraught the protagonist is. On page three, you might do it again. You’re not writing an infomercial, so we don’t need to be told the same thing over and over.

 
Trying to introduce too much
You don’t have to try to supply the reader everything they need to know at once. This can often result in lengthy digressions, or just so much happening that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. Take your time. Be patient. Seed (and foreshadow) the information as required.

 
Using Metaphors and Similies that have no relationship to anything
Going with something like, ‘His anger rose, like my dog’s when the neighbour’s cat comes into the yard’, isn’t exactly evocative for a reader.

 
Overdramatic speech attributors
The attributors are things like ‘said’ and ‘asked’. There’s a school of thought that’s all you should use, and if your dialogue is written well enough, the reader will infer the tone. Some like to use adverbs, e.g. ‘he said angrily’. Some look for a stronger attributor, e.g. ‘he demanded’. Just don’t overdo. E.g. ‘he obliterated’.

 
Story mightn’t begin in the right place
If you’re going to run a race, or play some sport, you’ll usually do some warm-up exercises to get you ready. Writing often involves the same principle. When we’re starting something new, we’re often feeling our way into the story. Many people struggle with openings. Because of this, some of the early prose – whether it’s a matter of sentences, paragraphs, or pages – is just warm-up before we launch into the real thing.

Look at what you’re writing, and ask whether it’s starting at the right place, or whether it was just warming up before you started at some later point in earnest.

 
Fluency of dialogue
Dialogue doesn’t reflect real life. In real life, we stutter, we ‘um’, we begin a sentence and then cut-off midway and go in another direction. If we tried to do that in a book, it’d be frustrating for the reader.

Book/story dialogue is the essence of how we speak in real life, and yet tries to capture all the nuances and affectations.

For some bizarre reason, a lot of writers introduce dialogue with ‘Well’. Most times it can be cut. Writers also lose contractions. We’d say ‘don’t’ and ‘can’t’ in real life, but in writing it becomes ‘do not’ and ‘cannot’. These are just a couple of things that happen in written dialogue.

Read your dialogue aloud. Emote it. Act it. Find out how natural it is.

 
Looping
Many writers introduce the premise, e.g. a woman walking at night to a rendezvous. Mysterious? Exciting? But then they loop back to what brought the woman to this point, and give us her back-story – she’s unhappily married, and after dinner she said she was going out with friends but is actually meeting her lover, but she’s feeling guilt because yesterday her husband spontaneously brought her flowers, which is the first bit of affection he’s shown her in years … Um, do you remember where we came in? Be wary of how much exposition you’re offering to try set up your premise. Either start your story back where all this exposition began and show the action unfolding as it’s happening, or seed it in subtly.

 
They’re just some things to consider when submitting.

You have one chance to make a first impression.

Do all you can to make it the best first impression you can!

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The Evolving Idea II: Adaptation

Posted by on Jul 30, 2015 in Our Books | 0 comments

recycling-bin-307682_1280Last year I waxed lyrical on how ideas can evolve and change over time, even within a single short story that can become something totally different to its original intention. I was mostly talking about a single project going through its own individual course of development, but the natural progression from that is the idea being recrafted into a totally different medium. Adaptation. Sometimes it’s a dirty word; other times it’s the salvation of an idea previously struggling to find its groove.

Adaptation can be, to put it eloquently, a real bugger. Movies built from an existing story or IP are the main subject of criticism here, but changes in material for a new medium can run up and down the chain. The idea can come from anywhere and can become anything. Les Miserables started as a book, then became a musical that had more influence on the 2012 movie adaptation than the actual source material.

The 2012 film is an interesting point of discussion as far as adaptation is concerned, because it begs the question of whether it was an appropriately adapted project. The result was a musical crammed into a feature film format – many critics rated it well, which is hardly a surprise, but the reaction was more polarised among regular moviegoers.

And then there’s content that just will never fit into a certain medium, no matter how much you try to fit it in there. There’s never been a proper video game made of Les Miserables, just as most video games don’t make good movies (especially if they’re directed by Uwe Boll). A computer game can have a good story, although it’s often a mess to take that story to a new medium and keep it compelling.

But let’s narrow this down a little to talk about adaptation in different forms of writing – it may seem smaller in scale, but the same issue of compatibility arises.

The difficulty in jumping between prose and poetry is self-evident – the two forms of writing require completely different disciplines and priorities. What works well as a story may work as a poem if stripped down to its core ideas and emotions and retold accordingly, and vice versa if the right details are filled out into compelling narrative with story and momentum. Either way it’s a tough exercise.

And even across different forms of prose, it’s difficult to take an idea and transmogrify it into something else. Often the concept seems pretty simple. Take the fairly common practise of turning a chapter from a manuscript into a self-enclosed short story. Chapters are supposed to have their own internal mechanics and structure, so clean up around the edges and it should make a solid short story, right?

Wrong – initially, at least. It’s been done with success many times before, but even if it’s the first chapter being tapered at the end to add a more complete ending, it’s not a clean process. The cracks will show. Ideas that were meant to be seeds for later discussion will become pointless distractions. And the ending will likely be unsatisfying because there was meant to be more content to fill out the conflict and mystery evident in this episode of a greater story. Open endings are all well and good, but not if there are still loose ends that don’t close the natural arc of the story and the events that play out as a consequence of the inciting actions.

There are lots of anecdotes about short stories being expanded into novel-length publications. And hey, it works. But only if it’s a storyline constructed for the novel length. Rarely does the short story just get slapped on as a first chapter. The entire narrative is deconstructed and grown from scratch.

It’s also not as clear-cut to jump between fiction and non-fiction. Sure, the two mediums often blur together, but the point of fiction is to entertain and the point of non-fiction is to educate and enlighten (yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, but every ‘rule of writing’ carries at least some contrivance). So the focus needs to change, even if just a little. Non-fiction is typically bound by design to require more of a ‘point’ than fiction, which can exist clearly to entertain only.

So with all these problems and incompatibilities, is it a bad idea to try to take an idea in one form and adapt it into another mode of expression? Of course not.

I do it a lot myself, as a prose writer. A couple of dead manuscripts from my university days have been dismembered into a suite of short-form projects. One finally made it to publication in the latest issue of the online journal Communion. But only after a massive renovation that saw the original chapter stripped down to half its length and the remainder practically rewritten. The rest of my attempts there are pretty much dead ends – for now, at least. Like with any evolving idea, sometimes it just needs time to find the right mode of expression – and the enthusiasm to make the idea fit the medium, instead of the other way around.

Never be shy about experimenting with ideas, exploring different modes of expression to find the best way to carry a specific story or concept. But adapting something for a new medium is about as much work as writing from scratch. It’ll be laborious, but it might be worth it.

Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen

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