Tag Archives: Manuscript

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper: Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? 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.

PACING AND TENSION – TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE? Part 2

Be aware of things that can slow down your story – or make it race by too fast – and deflate the tension.

Backstory, continued

By weaving in just the necessary information in short bursts throughout your story it will:

*Keep the reader’s interest

*Keep tension high

*Keep the reader wondering

*Keep it dramatic – no matter the genre

 

Could your action be bogged down?

Girl sideMy First Reader Notes: “In action scenes we were slowed down by long, descriptive sentences such as during this chase scene: ‘Mr. Brown slipped over his excessively waxed floors.’ ‘His frantic breath pressed the pause button on the hot chase.’ ‘My toes became the texture of raisins as they squished up against one another like slimy slices of sautéed mushrooms.’” Descriptive sentences like these forced me to pause (and trip) in this supposed fast-paced action scene and have to create the visual from the words before moving on in the story. You don’t want to do this!

Can there be too much action on your story?

PKO_0008514 SICK GUYIs your story TOO active, TOO reactive and over-dense with words, concepts and emotions? This makes for a frantic tale, every moment fraught with intensity. It comes at you from every angle and is exhausting. The desire should be to invite the reader to turn the pages not run for cover.

TIPS: *How to change this? Incorporating the setting instead of using biological emotion would add a richer layer to the story.

*Take a break from the action – let it explode all around, then let it settle and give your character time to digest and reflect on all that has happened. They need to breathe.

 

TIPS FOR PACING AND TENSION:

  1. Deciding HOW and WHEN to reveal information is often more important than the info itself. Decide on your method used to make a big reveal to increase pacing and tension. PKO_0004442 Nervous ScaredHINT: Don’t bury it in the middle of a paragraph! (YES, I’ve done this too!).
  2. Move the story along by cutting out extra, unnecessary details in action moments.
  3. SHOW more of what is happening around your character vs. his telling us.
  4. Don’t have your character waffle back and forth! Chart their growth as they grow in the story.

Now go. Work on making pacing and tension flow 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.

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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 #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.

“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.

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.

 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.

 

Score! You guys are going to love this next series of Monday writer’s-help posts!

Wahoooo!

Wahoo! I’m so excited!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting fellow Month9Books author Donna Galanti. While we were chatting, she mentioned that in her past life she was an intern at a literary agent.

My ears perked up. “Really? What did you do there?”

Are you ready for this? She combed the slush pile.

That means if you had submitted to this agent, your manuscript would have to get through HER FIRST before the novel was even seen by the agent.

Wait----What

If you are unaware, this is really, really common. Many agents use interns to weed through the manuscripts and provide feedback on the submissions. These people are the “gatekeepers”. If you don’t make them happy, you are one step closer to a rejection.

So, how do you make sure your manuscript gets through the gatekeeper?

Well, we’re going to show you!

Writing_A_Great_Novel

Donna kept extensive notes on all the manuscripts she reviewed, and over the next few weeks, she is going to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly – and how YOU can keep yourself out of the reject pile.

Posts start next week. This is not to be missed if you are querying!

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Lesson Twenty-Six from a Manuscript Red Line: CAPITAL LETTERS

2015 note:  The post below is a reblog from 2012. I wanted to note that my current publisher Month9Books does allow all caps, but they must be formatted as smallcaps. (Check Word formatting) In general, though, I would suggest using with caution, and sparingly.  Now on with the post!

Do you use Capital letters when your character yells?  Do you use them for casting spells?  Do you use them for inner thoughts?

Me?   No, Jennifer. 

I would never do such a thing! 

Well, I might… and I have.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

I briefly mentioned CAPS in my first post on the Manuscript Red Line. (That was over Five months ago… Wow)  Anyway… here is the explanation.  The publisher said:

“The use of capital letters to show emphasis in a scene is not acceptable.  Especially don’t use it with magic, since JK Rowling did it that way.” (The Gold Mine author used caps as the character cast his spells)  “Come up with something new.  This is the key to fantasy – be unique – try not to do what was already done.”

Don’t shoot the messenger… this is their red-line, not mine.

In my novel, the characters don’t cast spells, but I did catch a few YELLING once in a while in CAPITAL LETTERS.  I got so used to looking at it that I liked it, but I have to admit, it works much better as “Get out!” rather than “GET OUT!”.  I use caps a lot for emphasis in my blog, so they may have wiggled their way into my novel.

For all you spell casters out there:  You can do better than JK Rowling.  She had her idea.  Now you need to come up with yours.  What are you going to come up with that everyone else wants to copy?

Even after you’ve learned everything you could possibly learn – Find ways to learn more @SJWriters

Helpful_RemindersLast week I attended a talk at SJWG given by fellow Month9Books author Donna Galanti.

It is always interesting to hear how other authors clawed their way through the world of publishing.

But what really stuck out to me, was when Donna discussed some of the mistakes she saw authors make while she was working for an agent. Her job was to cull down submissions and decide which would be read by the actual agent the authors had submitted to.

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While most of the mistakes were obvious to me, a few were obvious… but not so obvious at the same time. They gave me pause.

Had I done that in my current first draft?

Maybe. But maybe not.

Maybe._Maybe_not._00000

Today, I’m going back to a particular scene in my new book, and deciding if a section is “tell” or not. I don’t think it is, but a few things she said made me at least want to go back, take the scene out of context, and decide if it is a valid introspection at that point in the story, or am I forcing information.

Likewise, I have a string of dialog that is there for the sole purpose of explaining where the mother is. I believe that there is a valid reason for this conversation to happen at this point—but again, I want to make sure.

Helpful_Reminders

I guess the “gist” of what I am trying to say is this:  Even after you’ve sold multiple novels, sometimes it helps to listen to people tell you things you already know. That may sound incredibly stupid, but sometimes it helps (at least it helps me) to get kicked in the butt and reminded sometimes.

Writing is art. Art evolves. Listening to others speak about the craft, reiterates what I already know, and helps me make sure that my art does not devolve into the mess it was what I first started out.

Happy_Writing!

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Lesson Twenty-Five from a Manuscript Red Line: Bullying for Bully’s sake

“Having a bully for the sake of having a bully is a contrived way of injecting conflict.”

Well, I don’t think I can say it any better than the publisher’s quote above.

There was a bully in the Gold Mine Manuscript that really had no concrete tie to the main plotline.  His only reason for being in the story was to have a bully in the Main Character’s “normal” life.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

Knowing a little about the plotline after “book one” I do know that the “bully” would have a little more of a role, but overall, he was never really integral to the plot.  The author has even mentioned that although she was sad about it, the removal of this character was actually fairly easy.

Why?  Because nothing he did was deeply tied into the main plot.  When he was gone, the main plot was still solid, and he wasn’t even missed.  In fact, after reading a partial re-write a month or so ago… I have to admit that the story is even tighter without him.

Take a look at each character in your novel and ask yourself.  “How does this character drive the plot forward?”

If you have to make excuses for why the character is there, it is time to re-think them.

Yes, I know this is hard.  I have three in my own story, but I need them for later novels, and I don’t want them to just magically appear.

I know, I know.  Yes, I know what you are thinking…  I am just admitting the mistakes that I KNOW I am making.

Yeah, I struggle with this stuff, too.

Lesson Twenty-Two from a Manuscript Red Line: Does your Protagonist “Grow Enough?”

 2015 comment: Pay careful attention to this one. I think this is one of the most frequently missed aspects in first drafts and first manuscripts. There has to be a reason for your story. Your character must “Grow”.

In the closing comments of the Gold Mine Manuscript, the Publisher who red-lined it noted that the MC didn’t “Grow enough”.

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

They said the main character does not have a struggle in the story that pulls him from one state of being to another.  They thought he was pretty much the same at the end of the novel as he was in the beginning.

I’m not really sure I completely agree about this comment.  I saw little changes in the character throughout the novel.  I suppose the problem was the presentation of the final scene.  The author wound down from a big action scene very well, and in the end, the MC is relaxing and thinking.

I am just guessing here, but maybe the Main Character’s thoughts should have reflected HOW he is changed.  Maybe he should be thinking:  “Wow, I was such a stuck up prude, and the world used to revolve around me, and now I just put my life on the line and fought an army and stood up for myself to protect a whole kingdom!”

Okay, that was really bad, but do you get my meaning?  Again, this is totally a guess, but this publisher is looking for “the change”… What happens to the MC along the journey that makes him or her a better person?  This, again, brings me back to my own novel (and you should be thinking about yours)

Does my main character change?  Well, yes.

  • He starts out confident,
  • Gets ripped away from his family, get unconfident.
  • He gets the approval of the King, gets confident,
  • He leaves the King’s house, gets picked on all the time, and gets unconfident again
  • Finally, in the end, he steps up to the plate, and proves his worth in the climax.

However—does he think about this in the closing scene?  Well, no, he doesn’t.  But… in the last few lines there is another change that slaps the reader in the face with an “Oh my Gosh!”

My overall change, like in the Gold Mine Manuscript, happens during the climax.  Then there is this little hook after the wind-down in the last paragraph, which could be considered an epiphany.  It includes another change, and then a “no way!”  Is this going to fly in the publisher’s opinion?  Dunno.

I changed my ending a lot in the last year to make sure my MC changes.  I had him fall in love, I had him not be in love, I had him flat, I dealt with amnesia, I had him accept who he was, I had him outright refuse to be the “chosen one”… yikes what I put this kid though!

Admittedly in the first draft, he really didn’t change at all… at least on the inside.  I didn’t know this was a pre-requisite for story-writing.  Now, I think the change is there.  At least, I THINK THAT’S WHAT I WROTE (Go back and read that post if you don’t remember it)

I hope my stab at an exciting last page didn’t “blow it” but I guess that’s for the publishers to decide.

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2015 addendum:  Three years after writing this original post, I am VERY conscious of character change. My stories have both a “plot” arc (The exciting stuff that happens in the story) and a “character arc” (How the characters *all of them* change throughout the story.)

Take a good look at your manuscript. How do your primary and secondary characters change as events of the story unfold? Are they the same person?

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