Saturday, April 07, 2018

Weekend Guest Sasscer Hill

Frankie, here. I'm delighted to welcome Sasscer to Type M for Murder. If you aren't familiar with her work, you should be. 

Sasscer was involved in horse racing as an amateur jockey and racehorse breeder for most of her life. She sets her novels against a background of big money, gambling, and horse racing, and her mystery and suspense thrillers have received multiple award nominations, including both Agatha and Macavity Best First Book nominations, as well as a nomination for the Dr. Tony Ryan Best in Racing Literature award.

THE DARK SIDE OF TOWN, out April 2018, won the Carrie McCray 2015 Competition for First Chapter of a Novel, as well as a 2015 Claymore Award nomination for best unpublished mystery-thriller. 


With six published novels, and multiple award nominations, how was it possible my current WIP suffered from this error?

Was it the new subject? My first six novels are racetrack mystery-thrillers, and horse racing is a game I lived for more than thirty years as an owner, breeder, and rider of Thoroughbred racehorses.

I suspect my failure was due to the unfamiliarity of a story world about Irish American Travelers, those gypsies so famous for their cons and scams here in South Carolina.

I was two hundred pages in, when I agreed to send the work to my agent for her opinion. But as I read what I was about to give her, problems leapt out at me. It’s one thing to give pages to your critique group, and quite another when you’re placing it before the eyes of an accomplished agent. Reading it this time, I saw the story had a whole lot of telling, and not nearly enough showing.

Learning about the Travelers required in-depth research, and parts of my manuscript almost read like a documentary. Probably all that research, which is supposed to enable you to write with authority, not beat your reader over the head with facts and figures.

Though there was action and dialogue, there was also an endless first-person monologue from my protagonist, Quinn, telling the reader what the Travelers do and how they do it. Oh, yuk! What was I thinking? Quinn was even telling her backstory!

My agent was not thrilled with the manuscript, but being kind, simply said it wasn’t “organic enough.”

When I said there was way too much “telling,” she said, “I’m so glad to hear you say that!”

I’d saved her having to tell me I’d made one of the worst beginner’s mistakes. So, I’m back into those pages and instead of telling about the travelers, I’m using dialog, and action to show the reader their culture and behavior. I have cut out much of the lumps of backstory and will piece them in later, if they are needed. Although I don’t believe a dead body must appear on the first page, this novel was taking too long to get to the action!

When I finish this manuscript, it must suck the reader right in with action, emotional conflict, and vivid sense-laden descriptions. I’ve done it before. I know I can do it again.

Have you ever lapsed back to your beginner days?


Sybil Johnson said...

I don't have as many books under my belt as you do, but on my second book I did way too much telling. Horrible story. But I threw out half of it and finished it. Now I think it's good. Now I am hyper aware of the showing/telling thing.

Sasscer Hill said...

Hi, Sybil. It's scary easy how quickly we can make a mistake that we have no business making! No point in trying to find an excuse, we just need to carry on and move forward!

Candace said...

When I looked back at the early drafts of what is to be my first novel, I shuddered! Another thing I noticed was hideous dialogue. I hope nobody ever unearths them.

Sasscer Hill said...

Candace Carter, how much will you pay me to leave them buried?

Unknown said...

With a first person narrator, it's too easy to let her speak, let alone opine. I struggle with her occasional loquaciousness. I have to remind her, stop assessing and get on with the action. Rhonda Lane

Sasscer Hill said...

Yep, Rhonda, that happens to the best of us. Sometimes it's great just to let her talk, then in the read-it-later-and-edit-it stage, cut out much of it and leave the gems. There's usually a diamond in the rough lying in there somewhere.

Polly Iyer said...

I have a theory. After so many books--I'm on my 13th--we kind of forget what we were so conscious of when writing the earlier books. Whenever I see long passage of telling, I turn it into dialogue. Good luck with the next edit. You can do it.

Sasscer Hill said...

Thanks, Polly. I think you are spot on about turning it into dialogue!

Rick Blechta said...

Interesting post!

I believe dialogue is the toughest thing to do well. Well, also about knowing when to shut up and let the characters speak for themselves.

Many thanks for dropping by, Sasscer.

Sasscer Hill said...

Absolutely, Rich Blechta. When we do all the talking/telling, it's an insult to the reader's intelligence. The other problem in dialog is idle chit chat. I'm critiquing something right now that has so much chit chat doing nothing to move the story forward, I'm running out of red ink!