Tag Archives: gatekeeper

Wrap Up! Get your manuscript past the gatekeeper

Get past the gatekeeper

Special Thanks to author Donna Galanti for spending the past ten weeks with us (Wow has it been that long?)

It has been really interesting hearing from someone who sifted through an agent’s slush pile, and listening to the actual comments she made, as well as the suggestions to avoid these mistakes.

In case you missed any of Donna’s great advice, here is a wrap up of all the great tidbits she offered and links to each topic. This will also be made a permanent page under writing advice so everyone can refer to it again.

I hope everyone found this series useful!

Introduction: Score! You guys are going to love this next series of Monday writer’s-help posts! – Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper

#1: World Building

#2: Uneven Narrative Flow

#3: Those pesky Unnecessary words

#4: Does your manuscript have CONFIDENCE ISSUES

#5: Where’s the Beef? Is your dialog too beefy?

#6: Hook ‘Em and Hook ‘Em Good!

#7: Let’s Talk About Character Development Part 1

#8: Character Development Part 2

#9: Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 1

#10: Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? Part 2

 

Now go. Work on making every scene the best it can possibly be! 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.

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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 #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 #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.

 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 #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:

.

“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.

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.

 

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.