How I Landed an Agent (part 3)

One more event from the conference got me very excited about Carolyn’s interest. The keynote speaker there was Ian Ferguson, a Canadian writer and a really nice, funny guy. His keynote speech at the gala awards dinner was fantastic, and I laughed throughout.

However, one downside to the gala dinner was that there was no wine served with it. You had to go outside the main room to buy any kind of alcohol, and bring it back in. This had to do with the funding and sponsorship for the conference, so it was a necessary annoyance, but it was an annoyance nonetheless.

So as soon as the dinner concluded, most of the members of my table, and a few friends from other tables, agreed to go off and find a pub where we could have a drink together. And on our way out of the conference building, we ran into Ian Ferguson and invited him along, and he agreed. Off we went!

As it happened I ended up walking beside Ian for a few blocks and chatting with him. I told him about my success with Carolyn, and he told me that she was a great agent, and if I could sign with her I’d be very happy with her. His brother, Will Ferguson, is one of her clients, and Ian said she’s got a great rapport with many publishers, but was a lawyer and takes no nonsense from them either. Will is apparently very happy with Carolyn.

Of course, we couldn’t talk shop all night, but Ian had said enough; I would do whatever I could to prove myself to Carolyn. I’d already gone a long way and hopefully, on the strength of the rewritten section, she’d say yes.¬†Once I was done with the conference, and the flush of pride and new-found confidence wore off a little, I got to work on the rewrite.

I had never written fiction in the first person before, or at least nothing novel-length, and nothing for about 15 years or so. This book was written in third person limited, so the point of view was already okay; it was a question of perspective.

It wasn’t easy at all. I had to re-think each scene, to understand it as the direct reported experience of the character. I had to find ways to assume the character’s reactions to the scene into the narrative; by that I mean I had to think about how his reaction could be reported, subtly and interestingly, as part of the factual reporting of the scene. The problem was compounded by the fact that the I completely rewrote the first chapter, so it was now quite new to me.

I also had some more fundamental questions about writing in the first person. In a third-person work, the narrator is telling the story; even a narrator who is involved directly in the story is arm’s-length enough to be a surrogate for the author, and no further explanation is required. But a first person narrator is by definition self-conscious. I asked myself, why would the narrator be telling the story at all? To whom would he be telling it? In what form? And should that be part of the story itself?

A good example of what I mean is H.G. Wells’s The Time Traveller. The story is bookended by a host who has a guest, the time traveller, to dinner. And the meat of the story is the time traveller’s tale, which is told in first person to the host. All very logical and sensible, though the host is in the same position as my first-person narrator — whom is he telling the story to, and why, and how does he remember so much detail? I definitely didn’t want to make an explicit reference to the narration itself (like establishing that the guy was writing the tale down years later.

In the end, I decided to forget about the question. I figured that I would have to trust to the reader’s suspension of disbelief, and to do that I would have to get the story going quickly and interestingly.

Once that was decided, it wasn’t a huge task to go through and change all the pronouns, and at each change (especially where the main character’s reactions and observations were described), consider whether something could be done better or more seamlessly. It took about a month — I was working full-time so it was mostly weekend work — but I finished it and sent it off.

Continued in part 4. (Will it ever end? Possibly.)

  1. I’m enjoy these posts — looking forward to part IV and how Carolyn reacted to the rewrite.

  2. For the record, Carolyn Swayze does not represent Will Ferguson. He let her go in spring 2009. Just thought you should know.

  3. How I Landed an Agent (part 2) | Matthew Bin - pingback on June 30, 2011 at 11:57 am

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