“My story can’t be explained in the first three chapters”

arrogantThis is a common lament from writers. Their not-so-genteel remarks to me often include comments of, “if ONLY you’d read on to chapter 12, you would have understood the story.”

Dude. Seriously? If I have to read through eleven chapters in search of your nugget, I’d be better off having root canal sans Novocain, or a margarita with no salt because chances are that nugget doesn’t exist.

“I can’t explain my story in three chapters.”

What you’re really telling me is that you can’t organize your thoughts in a professional manner. No one is asking you to explain your story in three chapters – that would make for a pretty short book. We’re asking that you set up your story in those first three chapters so we know where it’s headed. That’s the purpose of those first chaps. If you can’t get your point across in that lengthy – yes, you read that right; lengthy – amount of space, then you’re probably a victim of rambling-itis. Readers are a sophisticated lot with short attention spans. Either get to the point or forget it.

“My story requires deeper reading.”

Please. This comment always makes me think of the frustrated artist who paints three-day-old meatloaf in earth tone metallics and frames them in cut-out garbage can lids, and screams, “No one understands me!” Well, yeah, we don’t. I have doubts these complaining writers afford that kind of patience to the books they buy, so why is their work any different? It’s hubris to insist that your story requires deeper reading, like you’re Deepak Chopra or something, and we lowly agents and editors should shove everything off our desks in order to pay homage to your gilded words.

These types of statements always make me think that the author doth protesteth too much. It’s tell and no show. If you can’t show me that your book requires deeper reading within the first three chapters, I’m willing to bet that the next twelve won’t reveal any epiphanies either. After all, we’re not stupid. Well, some of us are, but that’s a whole other post.

My point is that these cries of outrage are hobbyist, newbie writer stuff. I have never had an experienced, brilliant writer insist that I “keep with it.” They understand the minds of readers and get on with the business of writing a captivating story rather than complaining that we don’t “get” their three-day-old painted meatloaf.

2 Responses to “My story can’t be explained in the first three chapters”

  1. Marian says:

    If the story can’t be summarized into three lines, how will it ever have a mention in Publisher’s Lunch?

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    Ostensibly, authors who put their offerings in PM understand log lines. But great call, Marian. I tip my margarita to you.

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