Tag Archives: submitting

Get Your Manuscript Past the Gatekeeper #9: : Pacing and Tension – Too Much or Too Little? 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.

PACING AND TENSION – TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE? Part 1

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

purple hairWatch for creating false tension This is tension built up just for the sake of tension but in doing so a character can waffle. Readers get tired of false tension as they will come to believe then that things introduced are not really a threat

 These are the notes that Donna presented on an actual manuscript that came into the slush pile.

My First Reader Notes: “The main character had conflicting thoughts that created false tension. Like ‘I can’t scale that fence, it’s too tall. Oh wait, I bet I could.’ It’s like crying wolf. ”

TIP: Create immediate tension that is not so easily resolved.

Think you need a prologue? Think again.

Shakespeare closeMy First Reader Notes: “The prologue of the boy’s thoughts about his father dying is not necessary.  It’s too poetic, too abstract, and too introspective with too much backstory trying to give us a foundation. His thoughts here and his people and culture can be woven into the story later. Right now it just slows the story down and kills the tension.”

Backstory

Weave it in. We, the writer can know it all but the readers don’t need to know up front about everything. Readers want teasers. They want to have questions and feel smart for guessing. Throw them into the bowels of the story right away to keep the tension tight. Readers will catch up.

Frog HopHead Hopping:

This pulls you from the story – and slows the story down. A reader must re-adjust their thinking to a new point-of-view instantly. Ask yourself “Whose scene is this?” and write from that.

My First Reader Notes:

PKO_0012884“I am at page 78 and starting to feel like this journey is dragging on. Not too much has happened since it started. The reader hasn’t really learned much more.”

TIP: See what other info can be included up to this point that we find out later. What else can we learn by now to move the story forward? Don’t wait to reveal everything later… reveal some now. Drop it in along the way.

My First Reader Notes:

PKO_0004816“The writer needs to slow down some action scenes and even add an extra day at certain spots. I felt like I was running and couldn’t stop to see all that what was happening. I couldn’t entrench themselves in the richness of the world and story.”

TIP: Sometimes when it comes to pacing and tension we need to slow down scenes.

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.

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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 #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.

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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.

 

Lesson Six from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Watch that Voice! #MondayBlogs

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

When you are writing, especially if you are writing YA or middle grade, watch the voice. In the Gold Mine Manuscript, I know I mentioned the voice when I was beta reading, but my BP said her teenager read it and said it was okay, so I figured maybe I was just behind the times.

In this novel, the Main Character is supposed to be 15, but my brain just made him 17 (no matter what the novel was telling me).  Do you know why?  I believe it was the voice.  I mentioned it, but my BP seemed comfortable with it, so we moved on.

I was also having the same struggle in my own novel, and was on an up and down roller coaster with my own young character’s voice, so I know how hard a young boy’s voice can be, so I knew I was no expert.

You know what the publisher marked up over and over again in the gold mine manuscript?  THE VOICE.

2014 Edit:  I had a wonderful opportunity to have my manuscript read by Harper Collins. They loved my story, but guess what they said I needed to work on?  VOICE. I knew voice was key to FIRE IN THE WOODS. As soon as I nailed the voice, I got an editor to pay attention.

[continued] They mentioned that teenagers answer in quips and half-completed sentences.  I have to admit, my middle graders do the same thing. No perfect grammar for them.  Simplicity is the key.  “Yeah” instead of “yes” is more realistic than a full sentence.

I’m wondering about my own novel on this one.  My kid is from another planet, and grows up under the tutelage of a King.  I don’t want him saying “yeah”, but I don’t want a publisher calling me on it, either.  Maybe a few of the other characters can slip on their grammar a little.  Hmmmm…

My suggestion:  If you are writing for teens, get several teens to read it and ask them to be honest.  Same goes for Middle Grade.  This publisher actually had a teenager read the manuscript to make sure of the voice, and the teen said it didn’t sound real and they didn’t get the words she was using.  Yikes.

Moral of the blog:

If anyone reads your manuscript and tells you that there are possible problems with the voice, I’d take them seriously… ask a few more people to read it.  Drop it on a web site (I like Nathan Bransford’s site).  Get as many opinions as you can.
In the end, you still might not end up okay.  (To be honest, my five-year old drops bonus S.A.T. words all the time, so if I wrote his voice for-real, this publisher would red-line it—so who knows?)

There are a lot of things I’ve not changed about my manuscript that people have mentioned, but voice is one that I have always paid attention to.  If one person mentions something, I may tweak just a little, but if a few people mention it, I tweak a lot.  There is still a possibility that my MC may age a few years in the opening scene, just because of voice issues.

Don’t fall in love with your characters so much that you cannot recognize that their voice is all-wrong.

Yay!__Gold_Mine_Manuscript_is_back!