Monthly Manuscript Makeover – Tips to Help You With Your Work in Progress

Author, Taryn Bashford has asked for some tips on her current work-in-progress.

Taryn, I hope you find my suggestions helpful. If you have some suggestions of your own for Taryn, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Taryn is a YA writer,  and winner of a couple of writing awards ie Varuna House and Scribe Publishing. Thanks to CYA Brisbane where she had the chance to meet an agent, she is represented by Alex Adsett Literary Agency. This is her second completed YA novel, the first is out on submission.

The following excerpt is from Taryn’s manuscript, The Purple Wars

The concept

For 17 year old tennis superstar Harper, winning Wimbledon is a challenge and prying open the dark secrets that belong to her doubles partner Colt, is confronting. But hiding her love for her twin sister’s boyfriend is an epic test that starts a war. In trying to put their lives back together again, Harper needs to win the war between what people want and what people need.

Taryn’s question

It’s the first page of the novel – yes the one we all agonise over… so wondering if I’m pulling the reader in, setting up the character and plot in an interesting way…

The excerpt

The dining room is where the ghosts and monsters play. That’s what Jacob from next door said back then, when we were six years old, our necks curling around the half open door, our eyes blurting fright. Even now it’s my least favourite room in our house. It’s where adults belong, where serious topics are discussed, where it smells of calla lilies instead of brownies and popcorn, and it’s the only room in the house where I can’t see the Purple Woods.

So when Dad and Coach Kominsky invite me to take a seat at the solid jarrah table, the cream cushioned chairs imprinted with the bums of ghosts, I wrap my arms around myself and respond with a brisk, ‘I’m good.’

Dad’s grey eyes can’t seem to find anywhere comfortable to rest. He tries my face, but that’s like staring into the sun. He slides a zapped glance toward Coach Kominsky instead. Coach K has been the sun for these past few years, our lives revolving around his every word and action, so that’s no good either. Dad’s gaze weaves out the window into the afternoon sky, glazed behind his frameless spectacles. He’s doing a good job of keeping his feelings locked up; when I first joined them in the dining room there was a hurricane happening behind his eyes, the devastation rippling off him like heat waves in a desert.

My feedback

The dining room is where the ghosts and monsters play.
Great opening line, but is there a way to relate this to your character’s experience so you can bring her into being the main focus straight away?

That’s what Jacob from next door said back then, when we were six years old, our necks curling around the half open door, our eyes blurting fright.

Another great line. I really get the feeling of fear. Perhaps you don’t need, ‘back then, when we were six years old’. You could just say, That’s what Jacob from next door said when we were six years old,

Even now it’s my least favourite room in our house. It’s where adults belong (Not sure you need ‘where adults belong’ and it’s more like something a very young kid might say.), where serious topics are discussed, where it smells of calla lilies instead of brownies and popcorn, and it’s the only room in the house where I can’t see the Purple Woods. I think that, “it’s the only room etc” deserves a sentence on its own.

So when Dad and Coach Kominsky invite me to take a seat at the solid jarrah table, the cream cushioned chairs imprinted with the bums of ghosts, I wrap my arms around myself and respond with a brisk, ‘I’m good.’

You mention the ghosts again here – and this sounds more like the ‘voice’ of your character. Is there a reason you didn’t start here? It would also connect readers with your character straight away.

Here’s what I mean:

When Dad and Coach Kominsky invite me to take a seat at the solid jarrah dining room table, the cream cushioned chairs imprinted with the bums of ghosts, I wrap my arms around myself and respond with a brisk, ‘I’m good.’ The dining room smells of calla lilies instead of brownies and popcorn. It’s the only room in the house where I can’t see the Purple Woods.

Dad’s grey eyes can’t seem to find anywhere comfortable to rest. He tries my face, but that’s like staring into the sun. He slides a zapped glance toward Coach Kominsky instead. Coach K has been the sun for these past few years, our lives revolving around his every word and action, so that’s no good either. Dad’s gaze weaves out the window into the afternoon sky, glazed behind his frameless spectacles. He’s doing a good job of keeping his feelings locked up; when I first joined them in the dining room there was a hurricane happening behind his eyes, the devastation rippling off him like heat waves in a desert.

This paragraph takes us away from the main character and changes the focus to Dad. I think it could be more through your main character’s eyes.

Here’s an example,

“I can hardly bring myself to look at Coach or Dad. Coach is glaring at me. Dad’s head is bowed, his devastation ripples off him like heat waves in a desert. My chair makes a groaning noise as I fidget in my seat.”

This is just an example, Taryn to show you how you can swing it back to your main character’s point of view.

Perhaps this is also the point where you can introduce the main character’s name; perhaps someone says something to her and calls her by her name. You need to ground the reader in your story and your character, and name and age is always a good start although it’s not essential to give all this information all at once. But the reader needs to have an idea from the start who she is, and why they should care what happens to her – it should be clear what gender your character is.

Also, your imagery is fabulous, but when you put a hurricane and a heat wave in the desert in the same sentence, this can create confusing imagery in the mind of the reader. Each of these images on its own is very strong so you don’t want them competing with each other.

Make sure the meaning is clear for the reader. When you use long complicated sentences it can create ambiguous meaning.

For example, “He’s doing a good job of keeping his feelings locked up; when I first joined them in the dining room”, could be construed to mean that the character is joining her father’s feelings in the dining room.

You can avoid this sort of thing by showing the action as it happens.

For example, if you showed your character’s reaction as soon as she entered the dining room.

I think you could also show more of your character’s reactions to the whole location and situation. Do her eyes dart about? Does she sit on the edge of her seat? Does she think she hears something? Is the room dark? Is it closing in on her?

When your main character wraps her arms around herself, that’s the only reaction you’re showing us, yet you are showing how Dad feels. It makes your character seem a bit detached.

You need to get right into your character’s head right from the start. You want the reader to connect with your character and her turmoil, not her dad’s.

I hope you find this helpful, Taryn. If you have have questions or aren’t sure what I mean, feel free to comment on this post, and I will respond.

Happy writing:)

Dee

ABOUT THE MONTHLY MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER

If you’d like to get some feedback on an excerpt of your manuscript, here’s what you have to do.

  1. Send me 200 words of the manuscript with your question or outline of what you need help with OR
  1. Alternatively, you can just send me the writing question itself. For example, “My main character isn’t very likeable, what can I do about it?”

Email your 200 word writing piece or your question or both, together with a paragraph about yourself and a paragraph about your work in progress.

Also, if you’d like to see a blog post about a particular topic, please feel free to make suggestions.

Email to dee@deescribe.com.au

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3 thoughts on “Monthly Manuscript Makeover – Tips to Help You With Your Work in Progress

  1. Hi Dee and Taryn,
    You certainly aren’t the only one to agonise over the opening. It’s helpful to me to read what someone else has written and then see Dee’s comments. (Thank you Dee). I do think you (Taryn) are drawing the reader in to a situation that sounds like its literally going to put the protagonist in the hotseat. I agree completely with Dee’s thoughts about possibly reordering the paragraphs, feels like it would work. I also think there’s actually enough to engage us without some off the more vivid verbs and adjectives. E.g. for me, the ‘curled’ necks makes me think of giraffes, and the ‘zapped’ glance is a bit comicbook for the context. But I do like the image of her dad not being able to look at her, like staring into the sun. Another idea – what was the character doing immediately before she’s called in to the dining room? Might help us to anchor us in her life if eg she mentions that she’s sweaty or hasn’t had time to change from training, or has dumped her school bag at the front door, or even something more unusual.

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