Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guest post: Please help me welcome Susan Kaye Quinn

I’m pleased today to have Susan on my blog celebrating the launch of her new book. Susan is not only a wonderful writer, but she’s a terrific friend and I’m fortune enough to have her in one of my critique groups. When I found out her novel OPEN MINDS was going to be available this year I was very excited because I’ve been dying to read the entire story.

Susan also has a wonderful blog. I secretly stalk it because she is always sharing invaluable tips and information. You'll see what I mean once you read her guest post.

Without further delay...

Facing Revisions When It Feels Like Being on the Rack
by Susan Kaye Quinn

The great thing about improving your craft and making outlines and sending your manuscript out to round after round of critique partners is that you find lots of ways your story can improve. Unfortunately, this also means having to change actual words in your manuscript, cutting scenes and even rewriting whole character arcs. It's painful and makes you wonder why you signed up for another tour through the meat grinder.

It also makes you want to cheat.

After several early drafts of my new young adult paranormal/SF novel Open Minds, I realized that the setting of my opening was a cliché. Now I'm not one of those writers who thinks that clichés are bad. I think of them more as shorthand. If you need something quick and easy, to send a clear message to the reader about a character (usually) or a setting (on occasion) or a conflict (almost never), you can use a cliché to quickly get the message across and then move on. Clichés are different than tropes, which are well loved story elements that can be used, abused, and turned inside out to GREAT affect in storytelling. Use tropes and use them well! But clichés you have to use with extra special care.

At this point in drafting Open Minds, I had already reworked the opening many, many times, getting it just right. I didn't want to revise the whole thing —again—just because it happened to start in a cliché setting (a high school hallway).

The justifications began.

My cliché wasn't really a cliché because this hallway wasn't any ordinary hallway. It didn't matter if my opening was cliché because everything else in the scene was very NOT cliché. I like breaking the rules; breaking the rules is good; I could break the rules for this one. And so on.

It is certainly possible to use cliché openings. For example, Hunger Games opens with Katniss waking up, the top cliché opening, right after having a dream or finding a dead body. It was absolutely a cliché, but it was done so brilliantly it never occurred to me that was a clichéd open until someone pointed it out to me. Suzanne Collins is an incredible writer. She can pull that kind of thing off and sell millions of books.

Me, not so much.

So, I sucked in a deep breath and resolved to rewrite the opening again, changing the setting so that it wasn't any cliché I had ever heard of. And that revision, without question, made the opening better. I had to stretch and think hard about what would draw the reader immediately into Kira's world.

Only later did I learn a great "rule" about breaking the rules from writing instructor Kathy Steffen at a Write by the Lake retreat: only break the rules when it makes your job as a writer harder, not easier.

As a general rule, anytime you have to work harder as a writer, your reader and story will benefit.

You can judge the result for yourself by checking out the first chapter of Open Minds. And yes, we eventually get to the hallway. But we don't start there. :)


OpenMinds_cover_100.jpgWhen everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available in e-book (Amazon US(also UKFrance and Germany)Barnes & NobleSmashwordsand print (AmazonCreatespace, alsoautographed copies available from the author).

The Story of Open Minds (linked posts)

Susan Kaye Quinn is giving away an Open Books/Open Minds t-shirt, mug, and some fun wristbands to celebrate the Virtual Launch Party of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)! (Check out the prizes here.)

Three ways to enter (you can have multiple entries):

1)  Leave a comment here or at the Virtual Launch Party post

2)  Tweet (with tag #keepingOPENMINDS)

Example: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep. #keepingOPENMINDS @susankayequinn #SF #YA avail NOW http://bit.ly/SKQOpenMinds
Example: Celebrate the launch of OPEN MINDS by @susankayequinn #keepingOPENMINDS #SciFi #paranormal #YA avail NOW http://bit.ly/SKQOpenMinds

3)  Facebook (tag @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn)
       Example: Celebrate the launch of paranormal/SF novel OPEN MINDS by 
       @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn for a chance to win Open Books/Open Minds 
       prizes! http://bit.ly/SKQOpenMinds



  1. I really enjoyed Susan’s post. She brings up a lot of good points. My favorite is “only break the rules when it makes your job as a writer harder”. I can related to this, because there have been times I cringe at the thought of rewriting a scene that deep down in the very back of my mind where I’ve carefully buried the mere idea I know in the end I will because it is the right thing to do.

    Thanks so much Susan for being a guest on my blog.

  2. Thanks so much for having me Cherie! Party Hosts rock, and I love that you shared the Virtual Party with me! :)

  3. I agree Cherie. She makes some excellent points. Of course, I had to cringe a bit when I read the part of justifying the use of the cliche, since I'd tried that rationalization before, but that is par for the course. Revise to make it better.

    Excellent post.

  4. *sigh* I have a long way to go :)

  5. The first novel I ever queried opened with the character waking up. *sigh* Live and learn!

  6. Yup, one of my tasks in revision is to take everything that seems obvious (in other words, the first setting, description, piece of dialogue, or plot point that I thought of) and somehow twist or reverse it. I find it helps to read some really brilliant prose before starting this process. And to strive for "a gem on every page."

  7. I have to throw a little temper tantrum at first when my editor suggests a change that will take some time, but when I'm done I usually realize the manuscript is MUCH better for it. Good luck on your launch, Sue and hello, Cherie!

  8. I love hearing about others revision process. I re-wrote the beginning of Embrace so many times I lost count on which revision I was at before I was happy with it.

  9. What great advice! If we're breaking a rule and it makes our job easier then we're probably justifying!

  10. Did you really start this book in the hallway of Warren Township High? Did I read that version? Just let me say that starting by climbing onto a mindware-equipped hydro-bus is way, way better.