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.