by, Alex Yuschik
(Disclaimer: I’m an intern, not an industry professional. While I think you should listen to me because I’m awesome and I’ve read a lot of subs and queries, my advice should always be seen as a guideline and not the final word on an issue.)
To kick this off, I want to talk about inspiration.
Reading something that knocks my socks off is one of the coolest parts of this job and so, since this is my first post here (hi!) and I’m keen to start things off with a bang, I want to talk about inspiration and why it’s such a make-or-break thing for me when I read subs.
But to talk about inspiration, I need to talk about horses.
I was ten or eleven when my mum signed us up to take horse-riding lessons. I was totally prepared– I had an illustrated horse guide with how-to’s and everything. My guide told me one bit of crucial horse advice that I would later see more sinisterly as a tagline to alien/horror flicks or sometimes as a joke, but that ten-year-old, city-child me took with deadly seriousness: horses can sense your fear.
Maybe “sense your fear” wasn’t the best way for the guide to have worded it. Horses are perceptive and they’re willing to work with you as a rider, but they’re also not going to let you have control if they don’t think you can handle it. They’ll judge your ability to lead from certain cues you give them on purpose or subconsciously and decide how to react.
As a reader, I let a writer direct my thoughts with their story. Still, my own instincts kick in when I see a character do something unbelievable or when a story tries to draw me to a conclusion I don’t think is valid; it’s like trying to convince a horse to jump across a sixty-foot wide swamp, aka, not gonna happen.
Remember when I said a horse picks up on subconscious cues as well as direct ones? So do readers. Look back at some of your favorite scenes you’ve written, the ones that you wake up early to finish, then make yourself late for appointments to revise. They have an energy to them, right? Look at scenes between these, the ones that maybe accomplished necessary plot twists or character development but didn’t have your heart in them. Is the energy the same? Probably not.
The scenes I love most are the ones that I can tell the writer enjoyed writing. You have to write what moves you. Your audience can pick up on your investment in a scene, and they’ll be less willing to follow you into high-stakes emotional territory if your writing isn’t pushing them on. People are most likely to put down a book or manuscript when it falls into the humdrum, the oh-I-need-to-take-care-of-this-plot-device-so-hold-up scenes rather than the scenes you’ve been dying to write.
So, my tip for today? Take a scene that you know falls flat and re-imagine it so that you’re inspired to write it again. Maybe change something– put the epic battle on a wharf instead of an alley. Maybe add a new layer of emotion. Switch it up, get your creative mind in gear and thinking I can do something with this.
Because that is what I want to read, ladies and gentlemen. I want to be pulled into your story from the very first page and I want you to be so damn inspired writing it that I can’t put it down because it’s inspiring me, too. I want a manuscript that I can tell you loved writing from start to finish. Don’t forget that readers are creative people, too– the more into writing it you are, the easier it is for us to get sucked in.
Readers are perceptive. We know when your heart isn’t in something and when it is. Though not horses (but if horses could read that would be pretty cool), your audience will still pick up on both direct and subconscious things happening in your work and will gauge their interest in the story based on how much you’re invested in your scenes. So get inspired! Take breaks, shake things up to spur on your creative self, and most of all, keep going.
Exercise: take a scene you’ve been having trouble with and change something about it, maybe a character, a backstory, the setting, anything that makes you feel more inspired, then re-write it. How does the new writing compare to the original? What did you change? Tell me in the comments! –Alex
Alex Yuschik can be found on Twitter @alexyuschik.