Five pages vs. the full manuscript

Revision update: Going well. I’ve been getting up early and doing about a chapter a day.

Being the only one to know the full story of my book has been driving me crazy. I think it’s good. I’m excited about it. But there’s always that little voice in the back of head telling me that I might have lost my mind. Don’t you love that little voice? Jerk!

My critique group has been reading the book, five pages every two weeks, but that’s slow going. So, I got my husband to read the full manuscript late Sunday.

There’s a huge benefit to getting people you trust to read your full manuscript. Critique groups are fabulous, but the same people don’t make it every week and a lot is forgotten over two weeks. So, in a critique group alone, you might miss great continuity notes that can only really be picked out if someone reads the whole thing. My husband pointed out descrepencies in different chapters, a few things that didn’t make perfect sense. These chapters had been read by my critique group, but without knowing what’s in the older chapters, they would never have found these problems. Also, his findings were things that made sense to me in my head because I knew backstory that wasn’t in the manuscript–another good reason to have someone else read the book.

Your spouse or significant other isn’t usually the best person for this job. Mine is a very good writer himself and will be brutally honest with me, although I do encourage him to tell me the good stuff too. 🙂 But our partners in life are often the easiest to convince to spend a few hours or so reading our work, even if they might be too lenient on us.

But writers are helpers, and we know we are all in the same boat together. Reach out to fellow writers, in your critique group or other group, and ask them if they’ll be willing to read your manuscript, offering to do the same for theirs. It definitely helps to have that second or third eye and to have it on the whole book instead of just five pages every couple of weeks.

Do you have someone who reads your work? How did you find them?

Write On!


Story is key

Revision update: Got a bunch of good work in yesterday. Nothing yet today, but I plan to get to work after this post.

I found a great post on Larry Brooks’ today, Get Published, Part 6–Avoid the Common Pitfalls. Brooks offers up six problems that get a manuscript a quick rejection, but the best part of the post is what he points out is not on the list: “pedestrian writing.” As he says:

Bestsellers abound with writing that is nothing other than pedestrian. Even, on occasion, by unknown writers.

Brooks points out that what these bestsellers have in common is good storytelling.

Sure there are lots of books out there with beautiful writing and fascinating word choices, but if that was all they were, they wouldn’t be published. Because as readers, while we might appreciate a great turn of phrase, we are entertained by developed flawed characters, intruiging plots, conflict, danger, comedy, etc. It’s what the words say that keep us readers turning the page.

Case in point, let’s look at three of the most successful writers right now: Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling. Now, confession, I’ve never read anything by Brown or Meyer, but from reviews I’ve read and what I’ve heard from friends who have read their work, these writers are not considered great writers. BUT, their books are so successful and they’ve earned such a huge group of fans because they can tell a great story. One friend of mine who read Twilight said that Meyer’s writing was ok, but she has an amazing way of drawing readers into her characters.

I have read Rowling’s books, devoured all the Harry Potter novels for multiple readings. I’ve heard some people say they’re written badly. Now, I disagree with this. I don’t think J.K. Rowling is a bad writer. Sure, the last book is better written than the first in the series, but I happen to like her fun and easy style. But I will admit that I don’t love the Harry Potter books because of the way they’re written; I love them because of the stories and the characters and the world Rowling built, filled with yummy food and fun.

Now, I’m not saying that as writers, we shouldn’t worry about how we write in favor of our storytelling skills. In today’s economy, agents and publishers have more reasons to say no to a book, and we must do everything we can to make sure they can’t say no. But what it does mean is that, it’s not enough to make every word count and have beautifully rhythmic sentences. If we want to get published — and especially if we want to be on the bestseller lists — we have to write complex, well drawn characters and a story that grabs a reader and won’t let go. That’s what Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling have in common.

How’s your story coming?

Write On!

Star Trek and surprises

Yes, I was one of the many who saw Star Trek this weekend. And, apart from a few holes, it was good, very entertaining and lots of fun, especially if you’re a fan of the franchise and can appreciate the references.

But one of the best parts of the movie is the surprises. J.J. Abrams is good at surprising his audience. He does it with Lost and did it with Alias and with Mission: Impossible III.

It’s a lesson all writers would do well to learn, because if you can surprise your audience, whether they’re watching the story in a movie or TV show or reading it in a book or article, they’ll keep coming back for more.


If you haven’t seen Star Trek yet, you might want to stop reading.

Abrams does a great job of setting up the audience’s expectation then breaking it in the scene when Scotty beams Spock and Kirk to Nero’s ship. Scotty says in an off-hand type of way that he’s going to beam them to the cargo area of Nero’s ship because no one should be in there. Whether Scotty messed up or his assumption is wrong, Spock and Kirk are beamed into an area of the ship filled with Nero’s men, and our heroes must immediately shoot their way out.

As a viewer, I relaxed when Scotty said they would be beamed into a safe area. It’s a tense time in the story, and that safety ramp was a relief. But when the camera showed all Nero’s people, it brought laughter because of the surprise and even more tension — as well as the desire to keep watching to see what happens next.

This is exactly what our writing should have on every page. A story should lead its reader down one path, then quickly change the direction. Constant surprises will keep readers interested, and an interested reader is a loyal one.

Surprise me!

Write On!

Great openings

Quick status update, I’m still working through the revision of the climactic scene in my novel and am on track to finish the revision of the whole book by this weekend. Fingers crossed.

But I wanted to talk about great openings. The first few words, paragraphs, pages of a book are all important, not only to attract an agent or editor, but also to attract readers who pick it up in a bookstore. I’ve heard at conferences that an editor will give a manuscript 150 words before he or she will put it down. If your writing and story aren’t compelling enough to hold onto a reader within 150 words, you’re in trouble.

So, how to make it compelling? Well, for starters, get straight into the action. If you have to explain stuff, don’t. It’s ok if the reader is confused for a short while, as long as he’s INTERESTED. If a reader is interested, even if there’s not much explaining at the beginning, he will continue to read because he’ll be looking for the explanation. That’s when you can give it him. But first, get him interested with action, drama.

I thought of this the other night as my husband and I watched Fool’s Gold. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s stars Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey as treasure seekers. It’s fun, light evening fare — a few flat jokes, but all in all, entertaining enough.

But, the opening was great. It was memorable. And that’s exactly what you want your opening to be.

For Fool’s Gold — don’t worry, I’m just going to spoil the opening, not the whole movie — the opening shows two men in scuba gear on the seabed under a boat. The shot flips back and forth between them and the boat on the surface, which has an old generator that’s sending sparks flying. As the men search the sand for treasure, above them, a spark catches on a piece of paper, which floats into the boat’s cabin and onto a magazine lying on the bench, which catches fire… You get the picture. Now, down below, the men still don’t know that their boat is on fire, and when it sinks, they just see a bunch of sand in the water. They’re excited because they’ve just found something, so they head to the surface, where they explain what they’ve found and then look around wondering, “What happened to the boat?”

As I watched all this, I shrunk back in my seat in anticipation of the boat bursting into flames and then sinking. I laughed uncomfortably as the men, excited, had no idea they were going to have swim home. I was riveted to find out what would happen next.

But something else happened too: I found out the men were treasure seekers (ok, I knew that from the trailer, but you might not if you’re in a bookstore), they didn’t have a lot of money as their generator was sparking, they had found something important because they were excited, and they weren’t too smart, or at least, observant to their surroundings. All this in an opening.

Now, a scene like this might not work for a book, unless you’re writing in an omnipresent point of view. But you get my point. A good opening — sorry, a great opening will be exciting, thrilling, riveting and give the reader just enough information to allow him to understand what’s going on and what the story will be about. In short, it must make him want to read further.

What’s your favorite opening, book or movie?

Write On!

Community Story update

A little late on the update today, but here goes.

If you haven’t been following our Community Story, you can find the whole story to date by clicking on the Community Story page link on the left on the Day By Day Writer home page.

For those of you following along, here’s last week’s addition plus a new one from me this week. Don’t leave without joining in the fun. Post a comment with what you think the next word, sentence, paragraph should be.

Bonnie tried to speak, but her throat was dry.

What did this woman want? It had been 13 years since Bonnie had escaped, 13 years since she discovered her so called “cause” wasn’t anything more than an excuse for blood-hungry psycopaths to murder and pillage.

Bonnie gulped. It was so hard to believe she had been part of those horrors. She never regretted leaving. She never regretted telling the police. But then again, she never thought they’d find her again.

Now she had one choice, pretend she wasn’t the whistleblower that broke apart their criminal organization and go along with whatever plans they have in store for her, or resist. She knew her Star Trek well, and although these people weren’t the Borg, Bonnie figured option number 1 was best — for now.

Your turn! Post what’s next and we’ll continue the fun next Monday.

Write On!