Monthly Manuscript Makeover – The Lost Girl

Thanks to Rachel Bradbury who has submitted the prologue of her mystery thriller, The Lost Girl for the Monthly Manuscript Makeover.

She has asked for advice about making the start of her novel sizzle – and Rachel also wants to know if she has used the correct tense.

The Lost Girl is a Mystery thriller.

Here’s Rachel’s excerpt:

Amber rubs the tiny bump at the base of her skull.  A sharp pain immobilises her and strange images flash through her mind. She stops to rest for a bit, leaning her head against the cool tiles.  In the dim-lit hallway, she runs her hands across the walls, feeling her way along, not knowing where she is going.  All the walls are the same; white.  There are no decorations or pictures to give her any clues as to which section of the building she is in.  She hates this place, but she cannot leave.  Not yet.  Not until she finds her baby.  Amber wipes a tear away from her eye and continues down the hallway.

She is barefoot and the tiles beneath her feet are freezing.  There are no windows or doors, yet she feels a cold draught seeping in from somewhere.   Shivering, Amber wraps her arms around her body, the flimsy white gown doing nothing to protect her from the cold.

She stops momentarily and looks further down the hallway.  The never-ending tunnel of darkness, symbolises her life.  A life of shuffling from room to room in a trance, unaware of time; her days and nights combined into one big hole of nothingness.

GENERAL FEEDBACK

Rachel, I think the tense you have used is fine. There are already some great hooks in the start of this piece. My comments mainly relate to clarifying things for the reader and tightening the text.

You also give us a good sense of your character, by being specific with some of the details, you will give us even more insights into her world. You raise a lot of questions that will intrigue the reader and make them want to keep reading.

Something else you might want to think about – does this really need to be a prologue or is it actually part of the story? Particularly as you mentioned to me that there will be flashbacks in this novel, you might not need a prologue.

A prologue shows a distinct situation in time, place or character that the reader won’t experience anywhere else in the novel. It has to have a really strong reason for being there. Ask yourself, would this work just as well as a chapter?

A prologue is necessary where it’s not possible to incorporate the information in the main body of the story.

When writing the start of a novel, you also need to consider its place in the story. Does the start give the reader enough of a feeling for the tone, the character, the story problem and possible themes?

SPECIFIC FEEDBACK

Amber rubs the tiny bump at the base of her skull.  A sharp pain immobilises her and strange images flash through her mind.

Rachel, I’d really like to know what these images are – they would give me more clues to her circumstances and her character.

She stops to rest for a bit (Don’t think you need ‘for a bit’), leaning her head against the cool tiles.

In the dim-lit hallway, she runs her hands across the walls, feeling her way along, not knowing where she is going.   (If it’s so dim, can she see what colour the walls are? Having her feel her way along makes it seem as if she can’t see well enough to know what colour they are. Also, the fact that she is feeling her way tells the reader that she doesn’t really know where she is going.)

All the walls are the same; white.  There are no decorations or pictures to give her any clues as to which section of the building she is in.  She hates this place, but she cannot leave.  Not yet.  Not until she finds her baby.  Amber wipes a tear away from her eye (Do you need this action? It takes away some of the impact from your very powerful line, “Not until she finds her baby.”) and continues down the hallway. (Can you think of a stronger verb here? ‘continues’ doesn’t have a sense of urgency, yet if she is looking for her baby, she might be more frantic.

She is barefoot and the tiles beneath her feet are freezing.  (Could tighten this up with, “She is barefoot and the floor tiles are freezing.)

There are no windows or doors, yet she feels (Not sure you need to say, ‘she feels’. This piece is written from your character’s point of view so the reader knows that she is the one feeling it.) a cold draught seeping in from somewhere.   Shivering, Amber wraps her arms around her body, the flimsy white gown doing nothing to protect her from the cold.

She stops momentarily and looks (Can you think of a stronger verb here, perhaps “peers”?) further down the hallway.

The never-ending tunnel of darkness, ( I think I know what you are trying to say here, and I like the analogy, but if the tunnel is dark, I’m not sure she’d be able to see that the walls are white – and also, you said earlier that it was ‘dimly lit’, which isn’t quite the same thing.) symbolises her life.  A life of shuffling from room to room in a trance, unaware of time; her days and nights combined into one big hole of nothingness.  (This could be more powerful if you were more specific – perhaps talk about the grief she feels at the loss of this child she is looking for. You could use some really strong imagery here.)

Rachel, thanks for sharing your story with my blog readers. I hope you found my suggestions helpful and I look forward to hearing how you progress.

If you have suggestions or feedback for Rachel, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

HAVE THE START OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT MADE OVER

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*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

On 9th June I’ll be responding to a request from Rachel, doing a blog post on Applying for Funding.

 

 

Monthly Manuscript Makeover – Two of My Characters Sound Like Each Other

I had an enquiry from Kat who is writing a young adult novel in multiple points of view, and was worried that two of her character’s voices sounded a bit similar. They are both written in first person.

This has happened to me, and my tips are based on what I did to fix this in my own manuscript.

  1. Write a single paragraph summary of each character – something to really capture their essence so I could clearly distinguish them in my own mind. You can even do a table to show how different they are. For example:
L M
cautious bold
dreamy focussed
thinks before she speaks forthright
optimistic pragmatic
family orientated family orientated
loyal loyal
lives in a bit of a fantasy world truth seeker
believes best of people realistic

If you look at the key characteristic/s of your characters by doing this, you will see they are both very different.

  1. Look at how each character speaks. You can show differences in the length of their sentences, their word choices, the actions that go with their words, their speech patterns (do they pause a lot or is their speech free flowing?), their mannerisms, their thought patterns.
  1. Think of a situation – it could be one from your novel. How does/would each character react in this situation? It’s likely that both your characters will react in different ways. This will help you understand their differences, and convey this in your writing.
  1. How each character thinks is really important. Try to look at things through each character’s eyes, from their point of view. This will also help you understand their differences. For example, if there were an ‘anti-war demonstration’ in your character’s town’, would they go? How would each of these characters view war? Would one volunteer to fight and the other not? Would they both be opposed to it? Would they both volunteer? Characters are like people. They don’t think the same way on everything.
  1. Try rewriting part of your character’s point of view in third person, if you haven’t done so already. This will help you step outside the character a bit and may enable you to see and learn new things about them. It will enable you to see how they interact with others, how others see them, and what their place in the story is.

I hope you found this helpful. If you have any tips on how to make a character’s voice distinct from another, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

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*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

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

Monthly Manuscript Makeover at DeeScribe Writing

IMAG7613Happy New Year and I hope your 2015 is off to a happy and inspiring start.

This year I’ve decided to try something new on this blog to help writers who are wrestling with their manuscripts.

It’s the Monthly Manuscript Makeover, and it’s your chance to have your burning questions answered or perhaps get assistance with a problem you are wrestling with.

Every month on DeeScribe Writing, I’ll give one blog reader a chance to get feedback on a writing dilemma or question to help that next draft of your manuscript sparkle.

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

Happy writing:)

Dee