Thursday, February 23, 2012
I'm looking for a Llama by Terry Burns
I just finished working the Writing for the Soul conference put on by Jerry B Jenkins in Denver. Great conference, and I enjoyed it.
Working the agent panel I responded to a question by saying that I get over 300 submissions a month. Obviously I can't take that many, nor can editors publish that many. And don't buy into the idea that it's okay because most of them are not very good anyway. A significant portion of them are good books.
That means a good book is just not good enough. Agents and editors are all looking for exceptional books, books that stand out from the crowd and are unique and compelling. I saw what that looked like on this trip, driving to Denver. Out in a field was the huge flock of sheep, and among them, two llamas. Their tall, graceful necks stood high and proud above the sea of white fleece.
Now sheep are great, Jesus often used them as a comparable to his flock, and to himself as the "Lamb of God." The old cowboy vs sheepherder war is long over. It was the visual that spoke to me, and I said, "That's what I'm looking for, I'm looking for a llama." One girl got it. Apparently it had been talked about around the conference some because came and sat down and when I asked her what we were there to talk about she said "I have a llama for you."
I talked about this good versus exceptional think at the Oklahoma Writers Conference a while back. Afterwards I had a ton of appointments and one girl came in and said, "I'm not here to pitch my book, tell me how to make it exceptional."
Good question, and wonder why nobody else asked it? I told her about a unique story and unique voice but then I added the big one. I told her a movie is shot in scenes where everything that will happen at a certain place is shot at once, no matter where it may fall in the movie. The movie is born when the director goes into the cutting room and assembles these scenes the way he wants.
A writer does a good job of writing a story and then a good job of editing it or having it edited. That's a good book. The exceptional writer takes off the author hat and the editor hat and puts on the director hat to direct their story. When I was having the opportunity to write I tended to wrap all my scenes up nice and neat like a short story. Each and every one of them was a convenient place to put the book down. There should not be such convenient places to put the book down, but I left them for the director to fix.
The director insures the story opens and gets the reader down into the story and committed to read as quickly as possible by forcing them off the first page and having them committed to the storyline by page ten. He or she insures that each scene and each chapter does not tie up with a nice red bow but pushes the reader on to the next scene and next chapter. The director ensures there are no dead spots or places where the story bogs down with exhaustive narrative or complicated sentences where it may be put down. It isn't about story at this point, it is about flow. A compelling story and flow that drives the reader through to me is the mark of the exceptional book.
Yes, that's what I'm looking for, a llama . . . no, actually . . . what I'd really like to have is a giraffe!