I seem to be teetering on the edge of getting somewhere with my writing, but I'm not there yet. How can I learn to get a handle on pacing and characterization in my novels and short stories?
Background rambling snowflake info: I write genre fiction--sci-fi and fantasy short stories, and sci-fi and fantasy young adult novels. I've been trying to become a published writer for three years now and seem to be almost
getting somewhere. Looking at my spreadsheet, about 80% of my rejection letters are personal rejection letters (even from some pro markets!), and I've had many stories get passed on to editorial boards or senior editors, but no acceptances. I've queried two novels, and had an okay rate of material requests, but likewise, no luck there actually getting signed. And I'm starting to notice a pattern.
I come from a poetry-writing background, and editorial consensus seems to suggest that my stylistics are very strong. However, they also suggest that my work is lacking in characterization and/or pace. I get lots of rejections that say things like "gorgeous writing, but I had no sense of the main character," or "Very well-written, but slow. Send more!" In fact, I just got a novel rejection from an editor today that said something exactly along those lines. As a note, the criticisms about characterization usually seem centered on my protagonists or narrators--they tend to seem bland, I guess, particularly when held up against my more dynamic secondary characters.
I'm currently 2/3rds done with my next novel draft, and this time I want to Do It Right. I'm not sure if my process has something to do with it. I plot pretty extensively in my head, but I've never had success using note cards or outlines or any kind of prewriting like that. In fact, every time I've tried to do that, my enthusiasm for the writing wanes before I get very far, and the project dies. Because I've at the very least figured out what works for me in putting down a draft, I'd prefer advice/resources that focus on fixing these problems in revision. But if you think I really need to sit down with some note cards or something, I'll do it.
So, metafilter, help me become awesome. Do you have any tips and resources for dealing with these specific problems in fiction writing, or advice for advanced amateurs who want to finally manage to go pro? With my last manuscript, I picked up Self-editing for Fiction Writers
, but it really wasn't helpful to me because I already know how to manage things like beats and said-bookisms and adverbs--I'm honestly looking for something a little more advanced. I know about the shrunken manuscript technique
, and I'm planning on using it when I'm done with this project and would love more advice along those lines. I know I'll probably never be Dan Brown in terms of pacing, but I really want to work hard to be better than . . . well, this!
(Oh, and I have a bunch of really awesome beta readers and am now part of a crit group.)
Thanks for any advice you might have.