Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #7: Let’s Talk About Character Development Part 1

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Use of Formal Language

prince PKO_0001172prince PKO_0001172Are there places in your book where the language feels a little too formal?

Watch for use of contractions.

They are best used in dialogue and less in the narrative.

Read your story aloud to check.

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Remember your audience

And when it comes to language, always remember your audience. For example: You can have mature characters but make sure when writing for tweens, for example, you think like a tween. The reader needs to believe that this is a 12-year-old boy that is going through all of this. His thoughts, actions and reactions need to match that.

The Dreaded “Voice”

Watch for “breaking the fourth wall” like in the TV shows Malcolm in the Middle and House of Cards where the characters speak directly to the camera. This can take us out of the story. In fiction writing this is called breaking the frame of the novel and this style of oral storytelling can reveal an author feeling around for the voice in his story if not done well.

Be consistent!

Be consistent with your character’s voice. Does one character speak formally unlike the others? Carry that through the story. You don’t want your readers to say “Oh, he wouldn’t say that. That’s so out of character.”

Character Growth:

Build up your characters as you write them. Show us their faults, their desires, their conflicts with others – show us their reactions. Reactions are stronger than “telling” us how they feel and even stronger than “dialogue” as what they “tell” is not always the truth – but it’s our reactions that show who we are, right?

swish skid markTIP: Incorporating dialogue and body language can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.

Now go. Work on building characters to care about!

It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

An 11 year-old Reviews Joshua and the Lightning Road by @DonnaGalanti “Omigosh! Action Adventure!” @Month9Books

Since Donna was nice enough to hang out and chat on Monday nights with us, I thought it would be great if I could get a middle grade perspective of her book.

This review comes directly from my eleven year old son, with a little prodding by Mom.  Details about what the book (and the book trailer) are about are at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!

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 Let’s start out with what you liked.

The main thing I liked about it was the non-stop action and adventure.

Other details I liked were how different things and different problems were introduced and there were so many things they had to do all at once. And I also liked how the story didn’t take place in one area, how they had to move to different realms all the time.

Also I liked how things started winding down at the end, and then they started winding back up at the end– At 75% it seemed like everything was safe and then it was like “Omigosh they’re not safe because (character name removed) is back!”

 

 Did anything special catch your eye?

Some of the things that caught my eye were how you didn’t know Joshua’s name until his friend mentioned it. You didn’t know his name until the second chapter. I kinda liked that.

Also, at the beginning, I liked how when the storm happened out of nowhere and then this guy showed up and all this action suddenly came out of nowhere. It was like, “Omigosh! Action adventure.”

(Mommy plays Devil’s Advocate) Was there anything you didn’t like?

(He had to think a minute)

The only thing I didn’t like was how hard it was to keep track of who the characters were. There were too many kids that he meets.

There was also one character that has something bad happen to him, but he still goes on the adventure, but is only mentioned once when they are eating but then you never hear about him again. What happened to him?

[Minor spoiler] They never found out who spilled the beans on the plan they had to escape from the mill. [End minor spoiler]

 Overall thoughts?

Even though there were a few things that bothered me, overall I really liked this book.  

Would you read another book n the series if there were one?

Yes.

 

On a scale of 1 for the worst book you’ve read and 5 for the best book you ever read, how would you rate this book?

I would rate it a four

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There you go! Directly from my eleven year old son. I hope you enjoyed it!

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #6: Hook ‘Em and Hook ‘Em Good!

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Worm on hookThere’s probably nothing more frustrating to a slush pile reader than the anticipation of a story with a great hook, but then the author doesn’t follow through. 

How can we keep this from happening, Donna? 

Is your story more than a good idea? It must be a great story that is executed on. Remember, a story is a promise to be kept if you want to keep the reader reading.

Donna’s notes on an actual manuscript plucked out of the slush pile: “I so wanted to like this book! It has a fun premise and if executed well could be a book that boys and girls alike enjoy. It’s a fresh concept with lots of potential for action and adventure combining futuristic technology – BUT I needed more of a reason to care about why this story is being told. I needed to be engaged and I wasn’t. The story fell apart and its promise was never delivered on.”

Wow! Wouldn’t you just want to smack yourself upside the head if this was your manuscript?  Yikes!  Help Donna!  How can we make sure this doesn’t happen to us?

Okay, troops, ask yourself: Does everything happen with a purpose in your scene?

TIP: Outline the purpose of each scene/chapter and connect it to the story arc and character arc to strengthen the story and move it along. Everything your characters do must have purpose and consequences.

Specifically, write out for each chapter: Main character’s goals of each chapter/scene What the main character discovers in each scene and how it propels him/her forward What we can learn about other characters in each scene through dialogue and action World building goals for each scene Outer turning point: in each scene which things change that everyone can understand Inner turning point: in each scene which the scene’s point of view character also changes as a result

Outline this for each chapter and you will have a guide to stay on track with your story’s promise!

Do your characters have a special condition? Are they a burn victim, blind, or an amputee? If so this must play a role in the story. Don’t offer it to us as a promise to be part of the story and not deliver on it.

Now go. Work on making that hook follow through with each scene! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

“Gentle Tell” is NOT OKAY in your manuscript. Are YOU guilty of lazy writing? — AKA “I am really sorry!”

If you’ve ever had the misfortune opportunity to have a beta-read from me, you’ll know that I am a show verses tell barracuda. I point it out everywhere. (As I should, or I’m not doing my job)

Occasionally I will mark something as “gentle tell” and say it will probably pass, but the section could be stronger.

I had a section like this in ASHES IN THE SKY. I knew it was a form of gentle tell, meaning it could have been broadened, but since it was not a super important scene, I summarized it a bit to move on to the more exciting stuff. Since it was the only scene I brushed over, and I only did it once in the entire book, I figured I was in the clear.

WRONG

The sole purpose of the scene was to show where the main character got her schedule from when arriving for her first day back to school after a long absence. This is the exact text from my original submitted manuscript. Mind you, this got past several editors:

Throwing my backpack over my shoulder, I stopped at the office and got my schedule and locker assignment. They didn’t try to rustle me into any more assemblies, thank goodness.

(See the end of this post if you’d like to see the revised version)

As I said, this got past a few editors, but it was bounced back by the senior editor at the final read through. In this case, she was my personal show verses tell barracuda.

Paraphrasing her comments, she said:

“Don’t take the easy way out and tell us the obvious. What was it like going into the office? Did they treat her poorly, or were they extra nice? Give all the information to move the story forward without just telling us what we need to know.”

In other words – SHOW DON’T TELL

I was mortified. Once I really thought about it, I realized what a lazy paragraph I had written. I’ve heard of lazy writing before, and now I am wondering how many lazy things I have seen in people’s works that I glossed over as “gentle tell.”

Don’t let yourself fall into lazy writing.

If it is important enough to mention, then write it properly. Don’t muddy your manuscript with shortcuts.

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In case you are interested, this is the scene that I replaced those two lines with. I think it is obvious how much better the written-out scene is.

***

I slipped through the door to the main office. Four students waited in line, but parted as I walked in. The last to move tugged the backpack on the girl standing first at the front desk. She spun and her lips formed an O before she scurried to the side.

“Ms. Martinez,” the lady behind the counter said. “Welcome back.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, umm, thanks. I need my schedule and locker assignment.”

She handed me a paper from the tray beside her. “Here you go. You have Kelessi for Advisory, room three eighty-five. Do you remember where that is?”

I nodded.

“You locker is in the senior wing, number ninety. The combination is on the last page of your packet.”

“Three eighty-five, Kelessi, ninety. Got it, thanks.”

I turned and looked up from my paperwork. The other people in the office lined the walls, giving me a wide berth.

Did I forget to wear deodorant or something?

***

Look through your own work.

Are you guilty of lazy writing?

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Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #5:Where’s the Beef? Is your dialog too beefy?

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

PKO_0008514 SICK GUY Dialog is enough to give most writers a headache, but it’s so stinking important!

How can we make sure our dialog is right on target, Donna?

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Donna’s notes for the agent after reading a submitted manuscript:

“The dialogue feels flat and not necessary to move the story forward or reveal something about the characters. Instead, it’s used as backstory and false world building facilitators, telling readers what the author wants them to know through long passages.”

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How to beef up your dialogue? 

  • Check for long blocks of dialogue and cut up.
  • Read the dialogue aloud to see if stilted or awkward.
  • Use subtext, the lines between dialogue, to reveal characters and their desires or secrets. Often people say the opposite of what they mean and can reveal their true intentions through action and reaction.
  • The dialogue should match the pace of a scene to keep the tension, fast or slow. For example, if characters are on the run they won’t be standing around having lengthy conversations but may be running and speaking in fast, spurts.
  • Incorporate dialogue in creative ways such as through journal entries, character quizzing, or action scenes.

swish skid markAre you writing in the first person? It’s hard to avoid using “I this” or “I that” in first-person narrative but you must find alternate sentence structures to reduce those “I” sentences. It will bring your readers closer to your character.

AN EXAMPLE: Before: “I searched for Charlie in the dark but I couldn’t make out the heads on other bunks.”

After: “In the dark it was hard to make out the heads on the other bunks. Where was Charlie?”

Try this throughout the novel. Your readers will thank you for it.

Too many exclamations in your dialogue? A character that is always hollering is not a fully dimensional character. How else can you write that sentence/scene to convey urgency? You don’t want your main character to be remembered as one who simply yells a lot.

Now go. Work on what your characters say and how they say it! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

 swish skid mark

About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

The Day the Storm Hit – A True Story

Many people have said I should write about what happened while it is fresh in my head. So, here it is. This is not polished – just stream of consciousness writing. I have a novel to edit or I would have spent more time. Anyway, this is what happened.

June 23, 2015 6:26 PM my town was hit with a flash storm unlike anything most of us had seen before. I grew up on the Jersey shore and have lived through many hurricanes, but nothing like this.

Everything ended up in the air

Everything ended up in the air

I listened to the news on the way home from work, and they said there may be severe thunderstorms. No biggie. They always say that when it’s really hot outside.

When I got home around 6:00 PM, my husband was on the treadmill and my kids were all playing video games.  Hubbs said he was going to cook up some fish for us and a DiGiorno pizza for the kids as soon as he was done.

This beautiful old tree in Philadelphia was twisted up like a pretzel.

This beautiful old tree in Philadelphia was twisted up like a pretzel.

Since no one was screaming for food, I figured I’d jump in the pool and do a few laps. It was still 90 or so degrees outside and sunny when I dove in. It was 6:10.

Our neighbors tree in our yard

Our neighbors tree in our yard

About fifteen laps into my workout, dark, billowing clouds appeared over my neighbor’s trees. A rumble sounded far in the distance. Yes, I should have gotten out of the pool, but I picked up the pace for a few more laps. Time: about 6:15.

Power lines left on the ground because there just were not enough people or equipment to fix them quickly

Power lines left on the ground because there just were not enough people or equipment to fix them quickly

When I came up for air, I saw our large, free-floating umbrella swinging madly, and our two tiki umbrellas flopping unhappily in the sudden breeze. I jumped out of the pool and stuck my head in the house, calling my oldest son to help crank down the large umbrella while I took down the two tiki umbrellas. Time: 6:20

I really wanted to get some exercise in, so I jumped back in the pool. (Yeah, I’m an idiot). I hadn’t gotten a full lap in when my younger kids came running out of the house. “We just lost power!”

More power lines laying on the ground

More power lines laying on the ground

Huh? The storm wasn’t even here yet.

I got out of the pool and wrapped my towel around me. Brrrrr. When did it get so cold? Time: 6:25. I turned around and looked at the sky. The huge, black clouds were spinning, and all the visible sky in the center was green… like shamrock-shake minty green… and I’m NOT KIDDING.

Massive tree that used to stand around the corner from my house

Massive tree that used to stand around the corner from my house

My husband stepped out of the house. “Look at the sky,” I said.

He didn’t have time to comment.

Imagine the air in the distance suddenly turning white – kind of like one of those clear shower curtains that you can’t quite see through – And then having that shower curtain flung at you at a gazillion miles per hour.

My 9 year old stumbled to keep on his feet. My eleven year old screamed “Whoa, what the heck?”

Neighbors. Just about every other house lost a tree
Neighbors. Just about every other house lost a tree

 

“Get in the house!” I screamed to them as flecks of needle-like rain hit my face.

I turned and found my husband fumbling with a tarp. “We need to cover the fire pit!” he said. (Stupid, I know… but the thought of a tornado coming at us didn’t really cross either of our minds.) I helped him, because I knew it would be faster than arguing.

Luckily we were under the covered porch when raindrops the size of melted golf balls started falling. Big, white drops throttling the roof. You know how kids draw rain … huge teardrops in the sky?  Well that’s what it looked like, but the drops were solid white.

Streetlight snapped. This car has no rear window. Not sure if it fell on the car

Streetlight snapped. This car has no rear window. Not sure if it fell on the car

“We need to grab the cushions!” my husband said.

“Well, we’re not going out in that, they’re already soaked.”

Trees just bend over and snapped. This is a common sight if they were not ripped out at the roots

Trees just bend over and snapped. This is a common sight if they were not ripped out at the roots

That’s when something from my neighbor’s yard set sail, came over our six foot fence, and flew past our house. I can’t tell you what it was. I don’t rightly remember. My oldest son said, “Is this a tornado?”

I stiffened, staring at the green sky. Something cracked, and part of the tree behind our house snapped. Took flight, and went right through our stockade fence. That was enough to make the three of us run for the back door.

Yes, I was swimming here minutes before.

Yes, I was swimming here minutes before.

My two little ones crouched in the kitchen. “Is it a tornado?” Littlest asked.

I realized they were both standing in front of a glass slider door. “Get in the basement!”

Monstrous tree in the next town. The root ball was far over the top of my car

Monstrous tree in the next town. The root ball was far over the top of my car

“Get under the basement stairs!” My oldest shouted. (I was surprised he remembered our emergency plan.) But he remained at our side.

The little ones got to the bottom of the stairs and ran back up, more terrified of the dark and the noise. I herded them into the room where the windows were protected some by the covered porch.

Littlest posing to show how big these things are

Littlest posing to show how big these things are

My husband opened the back door as our patio furniture took flight. “What are you doing?” I screamed.

“I can’t just stand here and watch all our stuff blow away!”

A PVC recliner picked up and spun in the air. A metal table with a closed umbrella flew toward the fence, snapping the wooden umbrella in two.

The sky and air turned red after wards. Very scary

The sky and air turned red after wards. Very scary

It took several rounds of me and my oldest son telling my husband nothing out there is worth dying for before he backed away.

We stood, helpless as everything outside took flight, and nature peeled the beautiful tree behind our house like a banana.

Within about 20 minutes (I’ve heard others say it was a half hour – I didn’t look at a clock) the wind stopped.

We went outside to survey the damage. The sky was – strange.

These are the best pictures, but they don't really show the strange color

These are the best pictures, but they don’t really show the strange color

The kids asked why the ground was red. I rubbed my eyes, realizing they were right.  The brown spots in the grass were an odd red color. I held out my arms and realized my skin seemed a little red, too.  The air took on this “redness”. It looked a lot like television shows that try to show radiation and take the pictures through a slightly red-tinted lens.  Very weird.

Neighbor. Luckily the tree fell the other way

Neighbor. Luckily the tree fell the other way

The winds started up again, and back in we went. I’ve been through several hurricanes, and I knew when the eye passes over, the backlash of the rest of the storm could be worse… but I had no idea what it would be like for a tornado… and at that point we were fairly convinced that is what happened.

It was even a struggle to walk in places. (We were careful not to walk under uprooted trees after this)

It was even a struggle to walk in places. (We were careful not to walk under uprooted trees after this)

The second wave was nowhere near as bad as the first, and then the sun came out. People started leaving their houses and walking the neighborhood in a daze.

Still not positive of what happened, and hearing the emergency sirens all over the place, I kept my family inside for the night. We slept in the basement (partly because it was cooler down there (no power for AC), and partly so we were safe, just in case)

And then the sky just cleared like nothing happened

And then the sky just cleared like nothing happened

The following morning, still without power, phones, television, internet or even cell phones… my husband got in a car to go check on his 80 year old mother. He turned left out of our neighborhood to find the road blocked by police.  He turned to go in another direction, and was stopped by police, who said there were overturned cars and fires down that road, and our town was in a state of emergency, he had to go home.

From iphone 2015 856Later in the day we got grandma back to our house (she is fine) and I took the kids to walk the neighborhood.  We had a battery radio, and all we found out was that the storm was localized, and they were trying to confirm it was a tornado.  Walking the streets, seeing huge trees on the ground, poles snapped in two, mangled trampolines 1000 feet from where they were the previous day, and power lines just laying on the ground… well, there was just no doubt in our mind what had happened, even though they gave the storm a new category type… not a tornado, something about concentrated horizontal wind shears or something like that.

This is a line of 12 cranes back to back lifting the power lines (pictured above) off the ground.

This is a line of 12 cranes back to back lifting the power lines (pictured above) off the ground. In some cases, they drove a new pole into the ground next to broken ones and just moved on. Special thanks to these people working crazy hours to get our power back on.

When you look out over a forest and see an entire line of trees clipped off at the top like someone sliced them with a knife, you have to wonder how something like this could happen.

These are the kinds of things you see in movies or television news. They happen “somewhere else” not in your own backyard.

We were out of power from about 6:30 PM Tuesday night until 7:00 (ish) Friday.  Cell phone service came back Saturday. Cable came back Saturday afternoon. Internet came back Saturday night, and house phones came back Sunday.

From iphone 2015 857Our damage was minimal. We were extremely lucky. But I will never take the power of nature for granted again, and I will never look at a storm cloud the same.

ABC News video coverage and additional pictures of areas hit even worse: http://6abc.com/uncategorized/widespread-damage-reported-after-tuesday-storms/801925/

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #4: Does your manuscript have CONFIDENCE ISSUES

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Think GirlConfidence issues? What could she be talking about?

How could someone know if I’m confident by reading my writing?

I mean, my character is confedent, so doesn’t that mean confidence just oozes off my pages?

Ummmm, no.  Don’t let yourself fall into any of these very easy, very tricky traps.

CONFIDENCE ISSUES INCLUDE: INFO DUMPING, REPETITION, AND STOPPING THE STORY TO EXPLAIN

 Exhibiting these issues in your manuscript can reveal an emerging writer not quite confident in your writing.

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My First Reader Notes: “The story wanders for four chapters until we get to the inciting incident that launches us into the story and sets the main character on his journey.”

Rather than wander, thrust us right into the story and reveal the main character’s desires and motivations right up front. The reader will catch up later.

TIPS: Start with an info dump? Move it. Cut it up. Blend in later. Ask yourself, what is the incident that starts the character on his journey? YOU know it all – but the reader doesn’t need to know it all. Be selective in what you reveal and when you reveal it.

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My First Reader Notes: “Several times the same information was introduced, as if we the reader might forget we were told this information earlier. I often wanted to say “Yes, we know already!”

When it comes to repetitiveness, say it once in the right place. Say it twice or three times and you make the reader feel stupid – and bored. TIP: Don’t repeat phrases across characters. Each character should have their own phrases, imagery, and descriptions associated with them that help develop their unique character.

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My First Reader Notes: “We are constantly taken out of the story as the author stops to narrate about Sally: Sally was five ten. She had deep green eyes and blonde hair that was thick and mid-shoulder length. She played flute in the orchestra and three days a week worked at the hospital gift shop…etc. etc. etc.”

Do you have “You See Bob” moments in your story where you feel the need to stop and explain? Well…don’t.  TIPS: *Rewrite this section in the character’s voice to see how much stronger this scene can be told, or show us the main character from another character’s point of view. *Incorporating dialogue and body language can provide another character’s point of view without breaking away from the voice the scene is written in.

Now go. Be confident in your writing! It could get you past the gatekeeper.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.

Recovering from the storm

Hey guys. For those of you who don’t follow on other social media, my town was hit by a tornado on Tuesday. (they officially called it some other type of new storm. Lucky us. 😂)
Anyway we are fine. No casualties which is the most important thing. We were without power until Saturday and without cable Internet and phones until Sunday. So sorry, I was unable to get Donna’s post in on time. — even this I am entering from my phone. 

I’ll try to get back on a regular schedule next week. 

Fulfilling your contract: So, what is an “option book” anyway?

For the past two weeks I have been working on the “option book” as required by my contract.

What is an option book?

My contract with Month9Books was for a three book series with an option for the fourth.  That means I agreed to write three complete novels. (Already done. Yay!) Once those are done, the publisher has the “option” to request a fourth book.

The next step in the process for me was to provide a summary for the fourth book (This will vary by publisher and by author/book. I have friends who have been asked for outlines, first chapters, first fifty pages, etc.)

So, in my mind, I figured they just wanted a rough idea of what I had in mind. After all, they have three books from me already, right? They are familiar with my writing style.

So what I did was write out a rough, fairly detailed outline.  This is very similar to how I would start any book … just hitting on the key points, figuring I would fill in all the “holes” as I write (Which is my normal process.)

Since I had two large signing events back to back weekends before this was due, I shot it off two weeks early so I could check something off my to-do list.  Yay! I felt accomplished!

Imagine my surprise when the next morning I got an email from Month9Books, asking for a phone meeting that same day.

Yikes!

Well… I found out that I hadn’t quite done my summary right. What they were looking for was a complete, highly detailed summary so they would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that this would be a book they would want to contract even before I had written it.

So then started the conversation … Why did this happen?  What about this? Did you realize that this part contradicts that part? What does this scene even look like? Why? Who? Which? Huh? Etc, Etc, Etc…

As humiliating as this sounds, I found it incredibly useful.  My editor was able to see problems in the manuscript before I had even written it. (This is the kind of stuff my beta readers would see later and I would have to fix) She asked questions that got my wheels turning, and we came up with ideas together to strengthen scenes before they were even written, and come up with a few that weren’t even there yet.

Now I have pages and pages of notes to strengthen my story.  Total score.

Due to the extremely intricate nature of the book I am proposing, my next step is to submit a detailed timeline. Since a few things happen at the same time, she needs to see how the timelines run together, and how they intersect.  I have one month to do this.

This is a lot harder to do this that it might seem, since the book isn’t even written yet. Like I said earlier, I usually plot only major points in the story, and then I write each day trying to get my characters to that point.  A lot of my ideas come “on the fly”. Coming up with them when I’m not completely engrossed in the story?  Really, really hard.

Think GirlBut what this exercise is forcing me to do, is to really THINK about the story scenes, and how they interrelate.  I am finding that I need another scene here, another there. There is not enough time for this scene in this spot. I need to move it over here… and so on. I am really glad they asked for this exercise, because there is a lot to this story, and as she told me, “We need to nail this or it will bite us.” Nope, don’t wanna be bitten.

So, that’s what I’m working on at the moment. Once this is done, if they take the option, it will be interesting to see if this extremely detailed timeline, summary, and subsequent notes from our phone meeting help me to write faster, of if they will stifle my creative mojo.

How detailed a plan do you come up with before you start writing?

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Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #3: Those pesky Unnecessary words

Get past the gatekeeper

Based on personal experience as a first-reader intern for a literary agency, I’m sharing what can get your manuscript past the gatekeeper (the intern!) and into the hands of the agent.

Think GirlOkay, so, necessary words?

How can a word be unnecessary?

I mean, I wouldn’t have typed it if it weren’t necessary, right?

Here are some questions every writer should be asking themselves:

 

Is your narrative bogged down with adverbs?

Could dialogue or action could be used instead of multiple adverbs?

Does your writing feel cumbersome with lots of –ing words?

Here’s a bogged down example from my First Reader notes:

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“Joan was a hot looking, strawberry blonde sophomore, with a singsong voice, and a phony air-headed attitude.”

TIPS:

  • Look to remove unnecessary internal dialogue that slows the pace down.
  • Make a list of repetitive words then go back and search and replace.
  • Do not report on every physical response. This can weigh the story down. Trust the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.
  • Use one word that has the most meaning instead of several to describe something.
  • Do a global search for adverbs and point-of-view filter words (realized, noticed, saw, etc.)

 

Let it Resonate

Put the word conveying your most important concept at the end of the sentence or paragraph. The space after the period lets this word resonate for a deeper impact on the reader.
Examples

Before: “The creek raced along like a roaring monster in the rain.”

Compare that to this: “The creek raced along like a roaring monster.”

 

Before: We were supposed to work on our fort today, but because of the storm it was a muddy wasteland out back.

Compare that to this: We were supposed to work out back on our fort today, but because of the storm it was a muddy wasteland.

Oooh. “Muddy wasteland”. Much stronger, right? Keep this in mind as you end each sentence and paragraph. It strengthens your story.

 

TIP: Look for paragraphs or sentences where the important concept or heightened emotion is hidden in the middle then rearrange your sentences and/or words for the most powerful effect and polished narrative flow.

 

Now go. Polish your flow! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

Don’t forget, Donna will be popping in to answer questions. This is a rare opportunity to ask someone that’s been inside the trenches, so please take advantage while I have her all tied up graciously offering her assistance for the good of all.

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About Donna: Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her at www.donnagalanti.com.

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About Joshua and the Lightning Road:

Twelve-year-old Joshua Cooper learns the hard way that lightning never strikes by chance when a bolt strikes his house and whisks away his best friend—possibly forever. To get him back, Joshua must travel the Lightning Road to a dark world where stolen human kids are work slaves ruled by the frustrated heirs of the Greek Olympians who come to see Joshua as the hero prophesied to restore their lost powers. New friends come to Joshua’s aid and while battling beasts and bandits and fending off the Child Collector, Joshua’s mission quickly becomes more than a search for his friend—it becomes the battle of his life.