I recently read a blog post by US agent, Nephele Tempest where she said,

I see a great many manuscripts that show promise: good story, interesting characters, steady pacing that builds suspense. But all too often, the writers have jumped the gun and sent me a draft that still clearly needs rewriting.

 She also said that…

writers have to make sure the prose on the page actually conveys what they see and imagine in their heads, and in a fresh, compelling manner.

As I commented on Nephele Tempest’s blog,  this is one of the hardest things to do as a writer. We know what we want to say, but how do we pass that on effectively to our reader – and how do we know when it hasn’t quite worked?

If we can bring our reader into our character’s head and into their world, our good writing becomes even better.

So, how do we do it? How do we bring the reader closer?

Recently, when I was working with my wonderful crit buddy, Alison Reynolds on my YA manuscript, I realised it’s those little extras that take something that’s a good read to something that a reader can more closely connect with.

They’re the things that help the reader understand a character’s motivations and forge a closer connection. They’re the little things that bring a character’s voice into the reader’s head as if they were standing in the same room.

In my current YA, the little things that needed tweaking in my manuscript were mainly  character and voice.

For example, my main character’s mother seemed impassive to her daughter’s pain. In my mind this was logical behaviour because the mother was repressed due to something that had happened when she was young. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel things; she just didn’t show them. It was her defense mechanism. I knew this about my character but forgot to convey this to the reader so the mother just came across as being uncaring. Making this small connection for the reader helped them to empathise with her character and feel closer to the entire family situation.

One of the flawed characters in the book did something major to redeem themselves fairly late in the book. This piece of information/action got lost in the redrafting process, but it was something that was vital to the resolution of the story and future outcomes for the main character.

In a previous draft, I had realised that it was my character’s voice that was letting the story down. The dialogue was competent and the character was likeable, but I hadn’t done enough with her words and actions to make her stand out as a person – to give the reader reason to like her so much that they cared about what happened to her. The things your character says and does are what make them stand out – what make them unique – what make them sparkle – what make them matter to the reader.

Another of my problems can be that I’m focussing so much on building up tension that I make my plot too linear. Don’t be afraid to have flashbacks and play with format to give your story depth and interest.

Letters to Leonardo started life as all letters, but on my wonderful editor, Sue Whiting’s suggestions, I changed it to a mixture of narrative and letters. This gave the letters more importance and added texture to the story – it was like having two characters – the narrative showed the action and the letters took the reader on a more intimate journey into what the main character, Matt was feeling.

Character, voice, setting and structure are all things to look at when trying to give your story more sparkle.

The hardest part is taking a step back so you can see for yourself where things aren’t working as well as they should.

I am learning to trust my instincts. If a voice in my head says, “this could be stronger” or “this doesn’t quite work”, I stop and pay attention.

I also try to leave plenty of time between a final draft and when I send it out.

Good luck with your submissions.

Do you have any tips of your own about how to make a manuscript sparkle – how to turn good writing into something great?

I’d love you to leave your tips and share your experiences in the comments section of this blog.

Happy writing:)



  1. Nice blog post, Dee. You’re right, the hardest part is stepping back and taking a fresh look. Often I can only focus on looking for one thing at a time. Other times I’ll just be thinking about the novel and will come up with a phrase that will perfectly clue a reader into the thinking patterns of one character. A phrase that a reader may feel equally applied to them at some point in their life and then I know a reader will really connect with my character. That’s exciting, but still everything has to work, everything has to be strong. I have to keep refocussing.

  2. Thanks, Bren,

    It’s true that one phrase can reveal so much to a reader and help them connect with your character. Refocussing is they key isn’t it?

    Happy writing:)


  3. Thanks, Crit partner:)

    Best of luck with your rewrites too. I’m looking forward to seeing the next draft of your novel, Alison…and I’ll let you take a peek at mine LOL.


  4. Hi Dee,
    Great points you’ve made. I find giving a manuscript time to settle before going back to it is key to seeing any weaknesses. I’ve read that 6 weeks is the minimum gap you should leave before attempting another draft. I’ve also learned that it’s not a good strategy to hope that no one else notices an inconsistency.

  5. Hi Julie,

    Thanks for sharing. 6 weeks does sound like a good gap – although publishing deadlines can get in the way of that:)

    Love your comment, “It’s not a good strategy to hope that no one else notices an inconsistency.” Sometimes you just want a draft to be finished don’t you?

    Happy writing:)


  6. Once again Dee doors open to gain entry into the agent’s den…reading your blog posts.

    I find reading my work (as you know) works. And hearing it read back through digital voice. Scrivener is one I use plus more–even Text has voice.

  7. The letters as well as the narrative certainly give Letters to Leonardo more texture. It worked beautifully.
    I’m obviously not as patient as some others – about 4 weeks is my limit before rewriting.
    I admit I can’t read anything where I don’t like the characters and find them annoying. Motivation for actions is often the key, along with some redeeming qualities.

  8. Thanks Nanette,

    Reading your work aloud definitely works well for me. But I find it works better having the digital voice reading it back because I get sick of the sound of my own voice and I stop listening LOL.

    Hope your writing is going well.


  9. Thanks Dale for your lovely comments about LtoL.

    I don’t think time frame really matters, it’s what works for you. You’re right about motivation being one of the keys to people empathising with our characters.

    Hope you have a good Easter.

    Happy writing:)


  10. Hi Dee,

    At the moment I’m playing around with a character with no strong storyline in mind as yet. I ask the MC one question and write down the answer. I then ask WHY? to that response and write that down. Again I ask WHY? I continue with that pattern and it’s very interesting because it’s taking me deeper into the main character’s possible motivations, thoughts and background. I’m discovering things all the time.
    Motivation is so very important if our readers are going to relate at all to our characters.


  11. Hi Janeen,

    I love exploring characters in the way you’ve described. It’s so exciting to discover new things about them and how this can affect what happens in your story.

    I hope your character helps you find a great storyline:)

    Happy writing.


  12. Hi Dee, reading aloud is particularly important for picture book writers like myself, as they are designed to be read that way. If it sounds clunky, then it needs reworking. I often put things away for months at a time, again to get that fresh pair of eyes. It all takes patience.

  13. Hi Catriona,

    I can understand how reading aloud would be even more important with picture books. You’re right, we writers definitely need plenty of patience:)


  14. Thanks for stopping in Karen,

    Sounds like you are really busy. Hope all your projects are going well.

    I agree that sometimes we need to tap into our character’s emotions more. We know how our main character feels but it isn’t always easy to convey that to the reader.

    Happy writing:)


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