This is an interesting article called How to End a Novel With a Punch. James V. Smith Jr. claims “Your closer is the most important incident in the novel, bar none. Yes, the opener is critical, but only second in importance to the climax…. What readers say after they put your book down matters more for your sales than what they say when they pick it up.”
Writing My Novel.
10 Simple Tests to do on Your Novel. Here are some points made in this article:
- Look for places where dialog is linked to kinds of “looking”. Take them out.
- Make sure your character changes by the end of the novel. The character at the end
- “Write a one-sentence statement summarizing your story that includes the main character, the main theme, and the main problem to be overcome.”
- “Read the first paragraph of every chapter. From these isolated paragraphs alone, you should be able to detect forward movement in the story, with both plot and characterization escalating.”
- “You want dialog to illuminate character personality and reveal emotion. It can influence or lead other characters. What it should NOT do, however, is be used as a device to state plot facts.”
- “Search for the word “as” in construction (e.g., As she ran out the door, she grabbed a sweater from the closet. He pulled on his coat as she started the car.) Breaking these constructions into separate sentences will strengthen your voice and give your story more power.” “Also watch out for -ing action constructions.” “Make the most of narrative beats between dialog. Use the space to create action.”
- “Mark references to the five senses in your manuscript. Make sure you have at least three references to the senses per chapter.”
- “Don’t use italics for emphasis.” “To make your voice stronger, use an action to denote emphasis, not italics. (e.g., A whiny character saying, ‘I want to go too, becomes, ‘She clutched his sleeve. ‘I want to go.”)”
- “Show actions such as observing, judging, acting, and dealing with consequences instead of flat out telling the reader how a character feels.”
- “Have someone you don’t know read your pages for typos and errors. Pay extra for each mistake he or she finds.”
February 11, 2010
by James Plath (from Writer’s Digest)
Lots of tips that not only help you with agents and publishers but just to help you make your story better.
Writer’s Digest Tip of the Day - “First Aid for Scenes” from Writers Online Workshops:
…when writing a scene, first you must concentrate only on the elements that make that scene work on its own as an isolated mini-story. But eventually you must judge each individual scene’s effectiveness according to how much it contributes to the work as a whole.
Can’t decide whether or not the scene you’ve just written belongs in your story? A scene should do two or more of these four things:
1) advance the plot
2) develop the character(s)
3) illustrate the theme
4) contribute to suspense (which in turn advances the plot).
The strengths of Rowling’s prose read like a summary of Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style”:
- varied sentences, both in length and structure
- use of the active voice
- limited use of “to be” verbs and related constructs (“there were,” “it was,” “she was”)
- balanced use of rare verbs (slam, snatch, swagger) with more common ones (close, take, walk)
- a preference for concrete nouns that appeal to the five senses
- carefully selected modifiers
- use of more specific transitional words and phrases (because, though, which) rather than relying entirely upon “and,” “but,” and “then”
The Potter prose isn’t afraid to use adverbs (including adverbs in dialogue tags), for which all writers should be grateful.
1) Who is your main character (MC)?
2) What does the MC want?
3) What’s the main conflict that keeps the MC from getting that want?
4) What’s the event/situation that sets the MC in motion to achieve the want?
5) What are the obstacles the MC encounters, keeping him/her from the want? (Obstacles should escalate, building tension)
6) What’s the event/situation that makes the MC go “All-or-Nothing” to win the want? (This is a moment in which there is no turning back)
7) Does the MC win or lose?
8) What’s the effect of the win or loss on the MC?
from moonrat, a recovering editorial assistant, posted Friday, January 02, 2009.
The thing about your overwriting…. It’s just boring. It’s going to be the thing that makes people put your book down and never buy it. I know that in your mind, this language was a good idea. You clearly put a lot of time into stringing together as many adjectives, adverbs, and “replacement” nouns that struck you as interesting. So I’m gonna need you to try to be honest with yourself and flexible with me here.
“techniques to make your book one readers won’t be able to put down.”
- PLOT FROM THE GUT.
- THE “Heart-Clutching Moments” PLOTTING METHOD:
- What are HCM?
• Love at first sight…
• A huge moral lapse…
• Death by other means…
• A refusal of grace…
• Nature gone wild…
• Someone standing up to corruption…
• A change of heart, for good or ill…
• An act of depraved violence…
• A revelation…
HCMs can be active, whole scenes:
• A lifesaving attempt
• A chase
• A battle
• A seduction
• A caper
- Make a list of Heart-Clutching Moments and put them on index cards in rough order. Then you can build an outline
From Nathan Bransford, literary agent.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
- Does the main plot arc initiate close enough to the beginning that you won’t lose the reader?
- Does your protagonist alternate between up and down moments, with the most intense towards the end?
- Are you able to trace the major plot arcs throughout the book? ….
- Does the reader see both the best and worst characteristics of your main characters?
- Do your characters have backstories and histories? Do these impact the plot?
- Is the pacing correct for your genre? Is it consistent?
- Is your voice consistent? Is it overly chatty or sarcastic?
- Is the tense completely consistent? Is the perspective consistent?
- Is there sufficient description that your reader feels grounded in the characters’ world?
- Is there too much description? (David R. Slayton) ….
- Do the relationships between your characters develop and change and become more complicated as the book goes on?
- What do your characters want? Is it apparent to the reader? Do they have both conscious and unconscious motivations?
- Do you know what your writing tics are? Do you overuse adverbs, metaphors, facial expressions, non-”said” dialogue tags, or interjections? Have you removed them?
- Do you overuse certain words or phrases? Is your word choice perfect throughout? …
- Do your main characters emerge from the book irrevocably changed?
- Are your characters distinguishable? Does it make sense to combine minor characters? (Kiersten) …
More from the above site:
Writers Digest has an excerpt from Write Like the Masters: Emulating the Best of Hemingway, Faulkner, Salinger, and Others by William Cane from Writer’s Digest. This Excerpt discusses how Hemingway wrote to make it read faster. Not just short sentences but taking out commas, etc.
One of Hemingway’s most recognizable stylistic traits is a fast sentence speed. A writer’s sentence speed refers to how quickly his sentences can be read, either aloud or silently. It’s as if Hemingway’s prose flies along at a rapid clip while the writing of other authors putters slowly in comparison.
…He uses two methods, the first of which involves choosing shorter words for simpler diction…. The second method is to omit commas. — read the Excerpt
What Agents Hate (published by Writer’s Digest). Here is just a taste. Read the full comments to understand what they mean:
“Most agents hate prologues….”
—Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader….”
—Laurie McLean, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents
“I dislike endless ‘laundry list’ character descriptions…. Who cares! Work it into the story.”
—Laurie McLean, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents
“Slow writing with a lot of description puts me off very quickly……”
—Andrea Hurst, Andrea Hurst Literary Management
“Avoid any description of the weather.”
—Denise Marcil, Denise Marcil Literary Agency
“In romance, I can’t stand this scenario: A woman is awakened to find a strange man in her bedroom—and then automatically finds him attractive..”
—Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency
VOICE AND POINT OF VIEW
“A pet peeve of mine is ragged, fuzzy point of view. …”
—Cricket Freeman, The August Agency
“An opening that’s predictable won’t hook me in….”
—Debbie Carter, Muse Literary Management
“Avoid the opening line: ‘My name is … .’ ”
—Michelle Andelman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
“…I dislike a Chapter 1 in which nothing happens.”
—Jessica Regel, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
“ ‘The weather’ is always a problem…”
—Elizabeth Pomada, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents
“…there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly.
—Daniel Lazar, Writers House
CLICHÉS AND FALSE BEGINNINGS
—Mollie Glick, Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
“…anyone sleeping, dreaming, waking up or staring….”
—Ellen Pepus, Ellen Pepus Literary Agency
“I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter 1…..”
—Cricket Freeman, The August Agency
CHARACTERS AND BACKSTORY
“I don’t like descriptions of the characters where writers make them too perfect…. ”
—Laura Bradford, Bradford Literary Agency
“[I dislike] inauthentic dialogue to tell the reader who the characters are….”
—Jennifer Cayea, Avenue A Literary
““To paraphrase Bruno Bettelheim: ‘The more the character in a fairy tale is described, the less the audience will identify with him. … The less the character is characterized and described, the more likely the reader is to identify with him.’ ”
—Adam Chromy, Artists and Artisans
“…a story that opens on the protagonist’s mental reflection of their situation is a red flag.”
—Stephany Evans, FinePrint Literary Management
“Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
—Rachelle Gardner, WordServe Literary
Reasons Why Your Manuscript Got Rejected by Inkygirl on August 17, 2009
“At the SCBWI conference… Wendy Loggia’s keynote speech… focused on reasons she rejected manuscripts that were almost accepted but not quite ready.
“Wendy[,] executive editor of Delacorte Press… went through her binder of rejection letters and found that pretty much all the rejection reasons boiled down to seven points:
“1. Nice writing but no story. The characters are at the same emotional place at the end of the book as they were in the beginning. Wendy found that this was a common problem with authors’ first books. She says that having a good plot is essential. Ask yourself, ‘Why would a bookstore customer choose and buy this book?.
“2. The mss is too similar to other novels that the editor has worked on. Wendy warns authors against submitting books that are very similar to others on the editor’s list; you may be setting yourself up for a negative comparison, especially if the other book is very good. Even worse if the other book didn’t sell well.
“3. Your readership isn’t clear. Who will want to read your book? Your book is too ‘quiet’ or doesn’t have enough commercial appeal….”
I had been needing a way to show my main character’s intellectual problems with not having been to school when yesterday I heard someone say that 9/11 wasn’t the worst intelligence failure since Peral Harbor, it was the worst intelligence failure since The Trojan Horse! I loved the line and it started seeping into my mind and I thought of a way to use that as something she should know but didn’t because of the lack of schooling!
Added it to the conversation with Cleere about Rommel in Chapter 2.
Wish I could remember who said it. I think it was from Book TV this weekend. Book TV on CSpan 2 every weekend is fantastic and has exposed me to many books I knew nothing about.
1) Repeats (each writer has his/her “crutch” word)
2) Flat Writing
3) Empty Adverbs
4) Phony Adverbs
5) No-Good Suffice
6) The “To Be” ver
8) Show, Don’t tell
9) Awakward Phrasing
For details, check out the link.
Talking about Talking from the Novel Doctor. A couple of things in his August 6, 09 post about dialog
- Think rhythmically. Dialogue is a dance. Sometimes it’s a waltz. Sometimes it’s a tarantella. Sometimes it’s ordered, sometimes its a reckless improvisation. Usually, it’s a blend of many different steps. The quickest way to kill dialogue is to have line after line of the same droll drone. Mix it up. If it’s fun to read aloud, it’s probably fun to read silently….
- Allow characters to speak colloquially (according to their character and the time-period or culture of the novel’s setting). Unless the character is meant to sound like a British aristocrat, allow him to use contractions and sentence fragments and even to screw up his grammar now and then. Imperfections and mistakes help give characters unique personalities.
He spoke on top of her last words, “Germany is trying to save the world from them. They caused Germany to lose the last war.”
“How? Wait, I read a flyer once that enumerated the reasons Germany lost the war. It had footnotes to German documentation on what caused Germany to sue for peace. For instance, its allies were starving and their governments were falling apart.”
“We didn’t need Austria or Turkey.”
“Back in Germany, the women had turned against the war due to the loss of their menfolk, and because at the end even the pipes in their streets and ancient bells were melted down to be turned into bullets, etc.”
“That was just temporary. We were winning and moving westward across France.”
“Battles on the Western Front had gained only useless territory. When German soldiers tried to take something useful at Amiens, the British and French forces held.”
“The next wave would have broken through.”
“Starving soldiers aren’t as capable as you might think. With all the problems, there was really no room for anyone else, Jews or anyone, to add to the fact that Germany had lost, it was alone against the world at the end, no allies, no food, nothing left.”
“Jews were behind the strikes back home.”
“I’m sure there were some Jews among the strikers. But those strikes were just one of Germany’s problems.”
“And Jewish bankers were bleeding the government dry.”
“All the bankers, Jewish and Germans were doing the same things, pretty much writing off their losses.”
“German documents prove it all — wish I remembered the attributions but you would probably refuse to check them anyway. And the Americans were arriving with what seemed like unlimited additional manpower for the Allies. Meanwhile, Jews were fighting and dying for Germany, winning medals for valor, etc. And on the Eastern front, the local Jews there had welcomed the Germans, as they had suffered terribly under the Russians.”
“Strange how you accuse others of trying to dominate the world when everyone can see that that is exactly what Germany is doing. And then you accuse others of lying when Germany has made lying a major governmental office.”
This section is too long and people are telling me that isn’t the way most people think so I need to rewarite:
The two German officers rushed off to the edge of the ridge to check out the column. Captain/Hauptmann Kichner spread the word for quiet. Mortars were already being set up by the Oberleutnant’s men. The British column would be a sitting duck if it got well within range before they started firing and that was surely the tactic for which they were preparing.
Such thoughts came naturally to Katherine who had an uncle who was an army general. At a time when she had expressed interest in military matters, he had talked to her about different things and shown her several weapons including mortars—like the ones now being set up. Many years ago, when she wasn’t overheated in a desert life-and-death situation, but she had always had a good memory.
The mortars were being assembled close to where she still sat on the canvas dispatch bag. Three were set up and primed as the operators went back and forth from a truck for shells.
Too bad, she thought, one of the British military prisoners wasn’t where she was now. They could probably have gotten to a mortar to fire off a warning shot. But none were close enough.
Only she was in the right position. But she was really exhausted and untrained. Having seen a mortar and lifted a shell hardly qualified as training! How could she run to even the closest mortar? No way could she lift a shell and gently, evenly, calmly drop it down the barrel.
At the moment she could hardly lift her empty hand to shade her eyes for more than a minute. No one would expect her to do anything. Not her British superiors—but then also not her German enemies. No one.
If she hadn’t used up all her strength and energy already, though, it might appear to have been set up by the powerful but unseen Spirits just for her. At another time and place, she might be able to do something. But she could barely stand. Her arms ached from the repetitive motion of tossing paper into the fire: the paper had been light, there had just been a lot of it. And she felt faint from the scaldingly hot heat which sapped her more and more with each breath she took and each additional moment she spent under this unrelenting sun.
Yes, breath. She decided to focus on breathing slowly, deeply from her belly through her nose. The way she would prepare to walk a tight rope.
Maybe if everything was set exactly. No, it would be crazy. She’d not only be risking her life but maybe also the safety of her nurses. She kept breathing. Maybe if she had a little more time to recover. But time was in short supply, as it always was.
The choice would have been an impossible one, even had she been strong enough to have a chance of succeeding.
And she wasn’t getting stronger sitting here. Even through the bag, heat penetrated up to her from the sand below.
Katherine knew she was in the right position to fire a warning shot, though. Crazy thought. She couldn’t do it. Besides if she tried, they would probably shoot her. She wondered if the British would hear the shot—no, no chance over the motors of their transports. Why was she still thinking about this? She’d already used up all the energy she had. She had no reserves to draw on!
Absolutely crazy. Both the idea and her. Her brain had obviously been affected by the sun. She had once read that people had gone crazy under the Sahara sun. She could hardly suspect that she was immune. A good brain gone bad, such a shame! She should be locked up. Oh, yeah, the Germans were planning to do just that!
Anyway, what she imagined was surely impossible. Well, almost impossible. Almost, but maybe not completely, impossible. That made it sticky. Even if it was crazy, if it was possible, maybe she should try it. Crazy ideas sometimes succeeded just because they were so unexpected.
And it seemed almost as if this had been set up for her by Those who control arrange such things to test mortals—sometimes to tempt them into horrors but sometimes to offer them something unique and rewarding, a way out of a terrible situation if they do it right. Which was this?
She had at times in the past let such opportunities pass her by and horrible things had happened. But at other times she had taken on such openings and made things worse. She must not fall victim to the hubris of thinking the spirits were on her side. They were rarely on anyone’s side for long, angles and demons were the same thing in the long run. They had their own agendas that mortals could hardly personalize with any understanding of the larger picture.
But Katherine knew she had the background and experience to actually do this—not just her knowledge of mortars, such a simple weapon to use, just carefully drop the shell down a primed tube. But her juggling abilities would allow her to deal well with controlling the shell from the pile to the tube and to drop it straight. She’d know where to put her feet due to the training with high wire acts. And even the fact that she was dead tired and everyone knew she was totally exhausted would work in her favor since people wouldn’t think she could do it even after she started running.
She couldn’t see the British column, but she assumed a column might consist of 15 to 30 men. At an outside chance, she might be able to save them. Could she give up on such a chance?
She wasn’t seeing any better way—it would be tricky if it was even possible, a snowball might have a better chance of surviving out here for a whole minute. No one would blame her for not taking such an imagined
opportunity. No one else would even assume a possibility had ever existed, not for her anyway. But she was beginning to think she might have a chance. A minimal chance but a chance. And she wanted to avoid a life filled with regrets, recriminations and sleepless nights going over things in her mind over and over again after it was too late to do anything about it as she still did for other lost opportunities in her life.
No one would ever know of the idea, or she could even tell them she had thought of it and they would say she was right not to have attempted it. But if 15 men died because she had never tried, she would have to live with that. Risking death might well be easier. But it was one of those all too common situations where she really didn’t know what to do and still had to make a choice.
Katherine went over it in her mind, back and forth considering the chances, looking for variations, picturing everything step-by-step. And in the middle of that she kept getting the thought that she was not only risking her own life but the lives of her nurses. No, Rommel’s troops wouldn’t do that. Probably. Maybe. But these same German troops under different commanders on the Eastern Front had easily killed women and children as well as other innocents.
Her mind reeled with the choices she had before her.
She did have another advantage: Even German soldiers, especially those under Rommel, might hesitate to shoot a nurse, they might need one some day. And they might not assume she had any chance, which would mean they didn’t feel threatened by anything she could do. With all the disadvantages she did have advantages as well.
She trusted herself to the precarious hands of The Spirits. She would see what the situation was when she was taken back to her nurses as she was sure she would be. Just in case she walled off her sense of fear which was great and if left unchecked might make her hesitate where she couldn’t afford to.