Category Archives: General Writing Tips

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #8: Character Development Part 2

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.

Here are some notes Donna presented to the agent after reading a manuscript:

“The reader should have felt sympathy for the character. But we spend so much time in his head, and not enough time watching him act or react. He is always telling us what he wants, thinks, hopes for, and the same thing over and over, perhaps expressed differently, but the same idea or concept. Therefore, he often comes across as whiny and not all that capable. We need to see him go from hapless tween to reluctant hero to hero.”

Could your characters be one-dimensional?

Huh womanAsk yourself:

Are your characters people we are being told about? We need to get a sense of their personality or what they fear, or what they are capable of from an emotional or physical standpoint. We can’t see this if mostly the narrator tells us.

 

PKO_0002742TIPS: *The kinds of characters that have a history, actions, and reactions are the most well-developed – and the most enjoyable to read. Using the senses to show character is a great way to do this.
*Is your main character always having one emotion or the other? Like being shown as either angry or super sad. How else can he feel? Show him feeling other things. Look for repetitive sections where he is telling us what he feels and change to action. SHOW him reacting vs. TELLING us what’s in his head.

*Ground the reader in the beginning to a character’s description. When a new character enters the story describe them most richly upon entrance.

*Do a global search for your characters actions. Is your character always throwing their hair back? Snapping their fingers? Tapping their feet? Chewing their lip? You need to mix it up a little bit.

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.

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.

 

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #2: Uneven Narrative Flow

 

Get past the gatekeeper

Hi! I’m still feeling pink. So pink is me!

Today we’re going to talk about something almost everyone needs to deal with. This is one of those topics that has to do with “art”. Writing a novel isn’t about just slapping words on a page. You need to create a scene and inject mood with only words.  Let’s looks at this a bit…

Read-hold up PKO_0016876Based 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.

My First Reader Notes on Uneven Narrative Flow :

“The manuscript needs a careful eye to look for run-on sentences. Many sentences could also be re-arranged to smooth out the narrative flow by moving the end to the beginning and vice versa. And the writer needs to vary sentence type. This manuscript is filled with chunks of punchy, short sentences (making for a “jabby” read) and then chunks of long sentences. Overall, it was clunky to read.”

Is your prose “jabby?” Do you notice that you have too many punchy sentences in a row? Look to intermix them with longer sentences to give the reader a chance to breathe.

This might be hard for some people to pick out. In general, don’t use a lot of short and choppy unless you are trying to heighten the speed/action/ or tenseness of a story. Long sentences slow things down.

In general paragraphs, you should switch up a lot between long and short sentences. There are some programs out there that will scan your manuscripts to tell you when there are too many long and/or to many short sentences.  You can use these to help you spot them until you are comfortable enough to “feel” the sentence structure on your own.

Sound good?

Now go and rock those sentences!

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.

 

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #1: World Building

 Woo-hoo! As promised, here is the first of a running series of posts to help you “get past the gatekeeper” and have your submission read by the actual agent/editor you sent your baby to, and not just the intern. I’ll be popping in with my own comments. I’ll be in pink, because I feel totally pink today.

Are ya ready? Well, here we goooooo…

Get past the gatekeeper

Think GirlBased 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.

 

Mistake number one:

ADDRESS WORLD BUILDING ISSUES

Note from Jennifer: World building!  We’ve talked about this!  We need to ground our readers in the setting, right? Well, that’s not just me yapping. Here it is coming from a lady who REJECTED MANUSCRIPTS for this very reason!  Read on, fine folks, read on!

This was Donna’s feedback to the agent on the very first manuscript she read:

My First Reader Notes To The Agent: “The writer began with wonderful descriptive details drawing on all senses and then she just stopped – and I stopped reading. She stopped grounding us in the world of her story.”

Okay, stop here guys.  Think this over a minute. And I mean be serious with yourself…

Could there be a richness missing in your manuscript? Answer questions like these: Where are we? Another town? A different world? Are these places what we know, but different? What are the differences?

We also need to ground the reader in the story, otherwise they are lost. Where are your characters in the scene?

EXAMPLES:

Are they outside? “The earth was all gravel beneath my feet.”

Are they in a tunnel? “The stale air threatened to choke me.”

Through dialogue you can show time and distance.

EXAMPLE:  “Tom’s house was two miles away…takes a day’s walk to get there…I hadn’t been back since last fall.”

All stories happen somewhere. Whether you write fantasy, science fiction, or even about the “real world,” world building is key to creating a meaningful story. World building is so that your characters have a backdrop to live, work, and engage! Your favorite books, movies, and TV shows all involve world building. Putting the time into it will improve your writing and enrich your story. No need to give all the details…readers love to fill in the blanks with their imagination. One detailed street in a town can give us the entire town’s flavor.

Alien EweWorld building is just as important for a contemporary teen story set in Wisconsin as it in an alien universe. Why? Because life in a Wisconsin small town is foreign to someone who grew up in the big city of L.A. or NYC. If your character puts cheese on his pie, we may understand that’s part of the world of his Wisconsin town, not L.A.

 
World building is more than “setting,” it covers everything in that world. Money, clothing, land boundaries, tribal customs, building materials, transportation, sex, food and more.

Remember, you’re not writing an encyclopedia but a story with flesh and blood characters put through challenges. Story comes first. World building supports the story.

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WORLD BUILDING TIPS:

  1. Create a story bible of the elements and details in your story.
  2. Build as you go.
  3. Inspiration? Use photos/cut-out collages.
  4. Make sure your details are relevant and have meaning.
  5. Not sure what to cut? Ask yourself when adding in world building elements to your story: does it move the plot along? Does it connect to the theme? Does it support the growth of the characters?
  6. Draw a map to ground yourself and your readers, even if your story occurs in one place.
  7. Build worlds that interest you.
  8. World building supports mood, theme, conflict, character, culture, and setting.

Now go. Build your world! It may help you get past the gatekeeper.

Great stuff, huh? 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.

swish skid mark

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.

 

Finding the helpfulness in fun things. AKA: Fun and easy ways to improve your writing

About four years ago I posted about a cool website called Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) that will make a cloud of words from the most used words in your manuscript.

The words that you’ve used the most (AKA the words you may be overusing) will appear the biggest.

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I don’t know what made me think of this suddenly, but I decided to drop the novel I am currently editing with my Month9Book editor into the program.

This is what spit out.

ASHES Wordle2

 

I guess I am not alone in struggling with overused words. I think everyone does to some extent. But I found this very enlightening.

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The largest word is the word that appears the most frequently in the novel.
“David” was not a surprise. The novel is in first person, and Jess spends most of the novel with David.

Runners up

The runners up, though, are cause for concern.  “Eyes” “Like” “Back” and “Dad” all appear equally high, tying for the number two position.

I used search and replace to see how frequently they appeared.

Yikes!

“Eyes=322” “Like=356”

“Back=406” and “Dad=390”

“Dad”, like “David”, is probably not a concern, but 300-400 instances of Eyes, Like, and Back certainly are a concern. “Pulled” and “Just” are pretty high up there as well. I will definitely be looking at those, too.

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While word clouds are, for the most part, just fun, you can also use them to point out stuff like this.

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I’d missed this during my own editing before turning in the manuscript. “Back” wasn’t even on my radar screen.

It is now.

Try dropping your current WIP into a word cloud generator. You might be surprised what you find.

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Finding editing help in unexpected places. AKA: Social Media Rocks!

Last week I faced a little bit of a pickle.

I had a very short (147 word) scene that included a little bit of Spanish, and a line of French.

PKO_0005301I had an A+ in Spanish in high school, but I haven’t practiced in years. I was reasonably certain that I “had it right”, but after seeing quite a few reviews lately where people blasted authors for using non-English languages incorrectly, I was stressing over it.

I don’t have the money to run it by a translator, and everyone I know is in the same boat as me (Rusty high school Spanish)

Sooooo… I thought I’d give something a try.

I took to social media, and asked my fans for help.

I found that having a mostly international fan-base helped in ways I never expected.  Not only do I have a treasure trove of languages following me, they are all fans of my work, and are tickled pink to be the first people to see an excerpt.

I didn’t just get translating advice… I got advice from native speakers, Spanish as a second language, and people from several different Spanish-speaking countries, as well as one of these kids’ parents that provided insight into the way I learned Spanish that didn’t even occur to me.

Yes, I found, I was speaking correctly, but I was speaking TOO CORRECTLY. Book learning, and the real world, are apparently very different.

So, that’s my thought for this week.  When you get your work out there, make friends with your readers. It’s ten tons of fun. And when you need a little help, you might just be surprised at their enthusiasm.

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Two novels in nine months. Wow. Taking stock, and taking notes

For the first time in my life, typing “The End” felt like a huge relief rather than an epic accomplishment.

PKO_cheer30010118I just fulfilled my third contracted novel in the FIRE IN THE WOODS series in record time (at least for me) but still late, after asking for a one-month extension.

PKO_cheer10001289Looking back, I have to appreciate what an incredible personal accomplishment this was. A year ago today, I was checking my email daily, waiting for responses on my submissions while working on a dystopian novel (that is still only in fourth draft form)

Month_9_Books_Mermaid1It wasn’t until June 9, 2014 that I received the offer from Month9Books, with a three book deal attached. SWEET! But I looked at the tight deadlines with a shudder.

They wanted me to come up with two more novels, write, edit, and submit within eight months; while working at a break-neck speed to release and market book one in a “window of opportunity”.

If you’ve been here a long time, you know I rarely balk at a challenge.

Looking back, though, I think if I am ever faced with such an offer again, I might try to push out the dates to five or six months for each book.

Can I write a clean book in four months?

Yes. This little adventure has proven that. But I’d rather have more time than I need, and submit early, than hit a bump in the road (like I did in the middle of book three) and have to ask for an extension.

Yeah, I may be dreaming, because I am a little fish in a big ocean, and some publishers won’t budge. But at least now I will know what I am getting myself into.

Would I do it again?

Yes. In a heartbeat. Like I said, a year ago my debut novel was sitting in query cues, and still getting rejections. Now that same book that I was considering “shelving” is a three book series, with decent sales and great reviews on book one.

Yep. I have to admit: It feels good.

But I still need a vacation.

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The huge sigh of relief after typing “The End”

“The End.” Aren’t they wonderful words?

Fire in the Woods CoverAbout four months ago while polishing up my dystopian novel, I got the surprise of my life…

a contract offer for my YA Scifi FIRE IN THE WOODS.

And not just any contract, but a three-book deal.

Surprise!

Suddenly, I needed to come up with two more novels continuing a story that I had already typed “The End” on in my mind. That’s right… no planned sequels.

Yikes!

But never to be thwarted, I accepted the challenge, despite what looked like impossible-to-meet deadlines for getting the sequels out. I had a light outline of a concept, and I hit the ground running.

Now, I would be lying to say that I wasn’t pantsing ASHES IN THE SKY to begin with. I started off simply re-kindling my love for the voice and characters of FIRE IN THE WOODS, but within a few chapters I was able to scroll out a decent outline.

Here I am today, with a clean, completed rough draft of the novel. I have five weeks to edit the story, send it to beta readers, and make it sparkle before it is due in my editor’s hands.

So I am here to say: It can be done. Now I move on to editing, which is actually one of my favorite parts. Now is the time to add the little extra zing that will make my characters pop, and the explosions… well… explode.

For all you stats lovers: Here are the numbers…

Started writing June 18th

Finished CLEAN* first draft September 26th

Total time from start to finish=98 days

Total number of those days actually spent writing=60 days

One three-day weekend dedicated two writing = 10,392 words

Average words per day = 1,114, but the actual words per day ranged from 249 to 3,366

Let the editing begin!

*Clean just means that I didn’t write NANO-style. I corrected my typos and spelling as I went along, and re-read each chapter at least once and edited whatever did not work before I started the next chapter.

_JenniFer____EatoN

Sometimes life just gets in the way.

I admit I am mildly psychotic. I give myself goals, and once I see them on paper, they might as well be chiseled in stone.

I hit them.

Always.

No matter what.

It’s something that was driven into me since I was very young. I thank my father for this most of the time. Being driven has helped me get to where I am today.

But I have trouble dealing sometimes when I realize what I challenge myself with is sometimes too much.

PKO_0008514 SICK GUYLike this week, when I was thrown a little curve ball.

I got sick.

Really dern sick.

Flat out in bed, can’t move, stricken-with-a-chill sick. Then sweating-to-death can’t- turn-down-the-temperature sick. Horrible… zig zagging back and forth.

Yep, I even looked like a guy.

It’s terrible to have to take off from work, waste vacation time, and get NOTHING DONE.

Arghhh! Picture

It drove me crazy, laying there under piles of blankets, sometimes with a fifty-pound poodle on top of me for extra warmth… doing nothing when there is piles of work to be done in real life, as well as my writing world.

I couldn’t even THINK of my scenes. I couldn’t formulate a plan for when I could get out of bed. My mind was dead. Caput.

My poodle all fifty pounds of her. Isn't she cute?

My poodle – all fifty pounds of her. Isn’t she cute?

What a terrible couple of days.

I’m better now, thank goodness. But now I have to take stock.

First things first.

I just completed my immediate need: The interviews/blog posts requested by wonderful people who signed up with my marketing company to help promote FIRE IN THE WOODS.

Whew… That was a lot of work.

Today, I do something I have not done in a VERY long time.

I set the writing aside.

No aliens. No space ships. No conflicts (except a few real life kids)

The book will be there tomorrow, and I know the first thing I am going to do is look at my goal sheet (yes, I have one, with word counts for each day.)

I will see that I am now a month behind, with a deadline looming.

I will not panic. (You hear that? I WILL NOT PANIC)

Life happens. Vacations are needed. Current books need to be marketed. And hey, there’s not much you can do about getting sick.

Tomorrow I re-align my goals, and I suppose I should start lining up beta readers, because if I do manage to hit my publisher’s deadline, it is going to be close.

Deep breath. This can be done.

How do you dig out of a hole when you realize you’ve fallen far behind?

Jennifer___Eaton

It’s marketing time! More blog posts and interviews, less novel writing.

While I was on vacation, dreaming about getting back and leisurely finishing ASHES IN THE SKY, my publicist sent over my blog tour interviews and guest post requests.

Just_Breathe

After reviewing them (14 in all so far) I decided to write “just a little” of ASHES IN THE SKY per day to keep myself going, and bust out the marketing for FIRE IN THE WOODS as soon as I can (They are all due back by September 15th)

I cringe when I think of it, because my original goal was to finish ASHES IN THE SKY before my vacation.  Then I moved the goal day to a week after vacation when I got bogged down with the edits. Right now that deadline doesn’t look all that rosy either.

Sigh

But I will not be thwarted!  I am doing my best to write clean copy. I am hoping that all I will have to do is general insertion of emotion and setting. Hopefully there will be no huge changes or additions to be made, but I won’t know until I send this puppy out to my beta readers to be slapped around a bit.

As it stands now, I am just turning the corner into act three.  The third and final act should be a roller-coaster ride and easy plot-wise to write, but hard in the “action” department.  I probably only have about 10,000-20,000 words to go.  I can do this. I just need to keep plugging away.

JenniFer_EatonFFire in the Woods Revised Cover