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

FRIDAY FEEDBACK

Sorry that Friday Feedback is late today. I’ve been having some ‘technical’ issues so if you comment and your comment doesn’t appear for a while, please be patient. (Thanks:)

Today’s excerpt is from Taryn Bashford’s 32,000 word adventure novel for readers aged 9 to 12.

Thanks Taryn for sharing your work here. If you have suggestions for Taryn, please leave them in the ‘comments’ section of this post.

‘Don’t bite your nails,’ says Mum. She peels the potatoes and throws me a prickly stare. I yank the pinkie nail from between my teeth and unload the dishwasher.

Am I an omnivore or an herbivore?

‘Did you hear me Leigh? Or did you get struck with complete deafness?’

Puzzled, I check my hands. My thumb is now in my mouth, under attack from my teeth, whilst the other hand stacks cups.

At least I’m not picking my nose.

‘Yes, Mum.’ Wish she wouldn’t freak out so much.

‘Do I detect sarcasm in your voice young lady?’ Her raised eyebrows set off an alarm in my head. Bad day at the office?

Then I drop the cup.

MY FEEDBACK

Taryn, I love the voice in this piece. I get a real sense of your character and her relationship with her mother. I love the way you show her actions and internal responses.

I50 words is only a small space to try and give a lot of information to the reader, but I thought you could have set the scene and perhaps the tone of the book a bit more.

I didn’t get a sense of what kind of story this is going to be or what it might be about. Sometimes just a line can provide these clues. You need to get across to the reader that something is about to change for this character.

For example, if this were a story where the daughter runs away, you could foreshadow this for the reader with something simple like. “I open the dishwasher door, clatter plates onto the bench, wish I was anywhere else but here.”

The line “Then I drop the cup” indicates that something important might be about to happen, but you could have a more dramatic build up and rising tension.

Here’s what I mean: This might not work for your characters and it’s just an example of how to up the tension. What if the mother slapped the daughter’s hand away from her face to stop her biting her nails? That would give us more of a sense of the mother’s annoyance through her actions and would make the reader more sympathetic to the daughter. It would lead to a whole new series of events.

Be careful of using lines like ‘throws me a prickly stare’. This can create strange impressions in a reader’s mind and take them out of a story because a stare isn’t something you can actually throw.

You could strengthen your opening line by making Mum show her anger through the action of peeling the potato. For example: “Don’t bite your nails.” Mum scraped viciously with peeler until there was hardly anything left of the potato.

I liked the action of Leigh yanking the pinkie nail from between her teeth, but then I wanted to know what she did with the nail while she was unloading the dishwasher or did she drop the nail onto the ground or toss it in the bin first? When you put two separate pieces of action like this together in the one sentence, it can create conflicting images for the reader.

I wasn’t sure about the line, am I an omnivore or an herbivore? Is this how a kid this age would think and is this important to the story? And I wasn’t quite sure why Leigh was puzzled.

You’ve really done a good job with the character’s voice. I just think you could increase the tension and give the reader a few more clues to hook them into the story and want to follow Leigh’s journey.

I hope you find this helpful.

Happy writing:)

Dee

SEND YOUR PIECE TO FRIDAY FEEDBACK

If you wish to submit a piece for Friday Feedback, please email 150 words of your story to Dee*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Please also provide the word count (or estimated word count) for the completed work, genre, age of target readership and information about where this 150 words appears in your novel.

You’re also welcome to ask specific questions if there’s something you’re having trouble with.