A NYC literary agent kindly gave me an insight yesterday. Actually I was astonished to receive the response to my submission so quickly. I’d printed the sample chapters, synopsis and marketability page for Left Luggage in a brown envelope and cycled madly to the post office. That was Saturday afternoon. I received an e-mail response on Tuesday, which means my submission was collected in these suburbs of Chester, UK taken to Crewe for sorting, put on a van to Manchester Airport, resorted for the most appropriate flight to New York, flown across the Atlantic. Resorted in America and delivered to the correct office, where the agent read my work and bashed out the responding e-mail. All within 60 hours!
Anyway, she said she didn’t feel strong enough about Left Luggage to take it on. Waaaaa! And I’d had a good feeling about this one (not withstanding the good feelings I have for others still considering it), so those good feelings wafted out of that envelope and now inhabits a vase of flowers in that agent’s office. I replied with thanks for considering it and asked if she could give one reason for her response. She was good enough to respond by saying that it read rather like a screenplay than a novel. Ouch that hurt! But maybe there’s a reason. I was part of a team, leading it for a while, of aspiring writers belonging to Lush, a brainchild of Michael Starr, the brilliant am dram actor and dramatist in London. His website here. This was at my formative years as a post-teaching career writer, and ever since I’ve written stories with that camera on my right shoulder!
So I wondered what gives it away. Have I too much dialogue in the first few pages? We have tips on writing telling us to have conflict and some action on the first page, other advice tell us to set the scene. I chose the former, and the best way for me to have conflict and action is for it to be shown through characters in trouble. So I reached for some contemporary sci fi novels on my shelf and did a little crude analysis. Of these fine writers: Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Richard Morgan, Alastair Reynolds, M. John Harrison and Liz Williams four start with a prologue! Ummm and interesting considering some pundits at writing conferences tell us prologues get in the reader’s way of getting their teeth into a book. In the first 5 pages they all have dialogue from up to 90 plus lines – Alastair Reynold’s Pushing Ice, which carries a looooooong info dump speech, down to 20+ lines.
My Left Luggage has around 90 lines too. This is because, after a one short paragraph prologue, it starts in the space shuttle and so I have the atronauts discuss a problem when they find the ISS rotating in space when it shouldn’t be. So now I’m re-reading Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages to remind me what he says about maybe me rushing into dialogue too early, and how much scene setting is OK to do with introspection from the lead character. Ho hum. I’ve asked experienced writer friends for their advice too. The problem with redrafting is: what do you do with submissions already out there?
As for that NYC agent, she has yet to get back to me now I’ve asked her whether she works with sci fi screen plays! I have such a nerve…
A note about Left Luggage and other gems here