Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hang In There, Baby, & You'll Find Your Story

By D.P. Lyle

“There’s a story in there somewhere, I just can’t find it.”

My agent Kimberley Cameron said that to me many years ago. She wasn’t my agent back then, but she is now and advice like this is one of the reasons. I had written what was without doubt the greatest piece of literature ever penned by mankind. Really, it was. It was destined to be a number one bestseller. I had no doubts.

After all, I’d done the work. I’d read hundreds of novels. I’d devoured scores of books on writing. I’d attended dozens of writing conferences. I did my homework. I’d written late into the night on countless occasions, struggling to get the story on the page. And two and half years later my “great American novel” was completed.

I had met Kimberley some years earlier at a conference and we instantly hit it off. At that time I told her I was working on my first book and she requested to see it once it was finished. So, I packaged it up and sent it off. A week later, I got a call from her and she delivered her pronouncement: “There’s a story in there somewhere, I just can’t find it.”

Along with her pronouncement on the quality of my masterpiece, she added an apology for being so blunt. She’s nice that way. She was also right on in her assessment.

The problem? The novel was 138,000 words of garbage. I didn’t know that at the time, but now through a retrospective lens it’s crystal clear. It was overwritten, poorly plotted, and slow. Painfully slow. Too much detail, not enough suspense. Too much description and inane activities. Too much boring dialog. In short, too much of everything.

Back to the drawing board.

Making a very long story short, over the next decade I wrote and published many other books, with Kimberley’s steady guiding hand, but that story wouldn’t let go. It kept creeping into my peripheral vision, nudging me in the dead of night when all writers awaken with a story in their head. It’s part of the process.

That nagging led me to 27 re-writes, 4 changes in title, 4 changes in location, and an entirely new protagonist. The only things that remained the same were the bad guy and the basic premise of the story. And after all that ripping and tearing and writing, writing, writing, ten years later it became STRESS FRACTURE, my first Dub Walker thriller.

What’s the take home message in all this?

Writing is hard. Writing well takes time and repetition. Writing well requires copious reading, learning the craft, giving attention to detail, and practice, practice, practice. Or as Bryce Courtney (The Power of One) often says: “Writing requires one thing. Bum glue. Glue you bum to the chair and write.”

So true.

Becoming a successful novelist also requires that you absorb criticism you’d rather not hear. But hear you must.

“There’s a story in there somewhere, I just can’t find it.”

Don’t fear such criticism. Embrace it. Use it to improve your skills and to motivate you to write a better story. Authors who get it right the first time around the block are rare indeed. You know the stories. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and even the great James Lee Burke struggled to get their words in print. Rejections were common. But give up? Not an option.

About RUN TO GROUND, a Dub Walker thriller:
What if a forensic evidence and criminal behavior expert must track down a seemingly average, very religious couple who murdered the killer of their only child, dumped their entire lives, and disappeared.

What would you do if someone brutally murdered your only child, got off on a technicality, serving only months for a minor infraction, and continually taunted and threatened you from behind bars? Could you hide your growing rage from family and friends? Could you gun the killer down? Could you change your ID and leave behind your entire life---family, friends, jobs, home---and disappear?

For Tim and Martha Foster the answer to each of these questions is yes.

This is the scenario that faces Dub Walker in RUN TO GROUND.

Connect with DP Lyle, MD:

Bio: D. P. Lyle is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar, Agatha, Scribe, and USA Best Book Award nominated author of the non-fiction books FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES; FORENSICS & FICTION; MORE FORENSICS & FICTION; and HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS; the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker Thriller series; and the ROYAL PAINS media tie-in novels. His short story “Even Steven” appears in ITW’s anthology THRILLER 3: LOVE IS MURDER.

He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.


Mary Raimes Curtis said...

Hi,Hang In There Baby, hit a nerve. I hadn't thought of it before, but looking back I must have loaded up a dumpster full of empty ink cartridges while writing my two published ebooks. I too write long and still have other stories waiting to be edited from 160,000 words down to 110.000. It hurts throwing away all those lovely words but it has to be done.

CathyP said...

Thanks for sharing!
My first rambling story, written with joy and abandon and absolutely no clue about craft, is fortunately still under the bed. But I did love those characters... maybe there is a story in there :)

Matt Coyle said...

Well said, Doug. You have to step out of the vacuum and absorb the criticism to ever move forward. We, and all of her authors, are lucky to have Kimberley, She changed my life.