Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Identify It, Own It, Fix It

So you’ve written your first book, polished it to sparkling perfection, and entered it into a few contests to get some feedback before beginning your agent search. Then the scores from the contests come back, a baffling mix of “love it!” and “hate it!” that leaves you scratching your head and looking for the common denominator. How is it possible that your novel isn’t setting the literary world on fire? Could it be that your manuscript contains one or more of the 15 most common problems new writers encounter along the journey to publication?

Are you dumping all your back story into the first five pages? Does your story begin in the wrong place? Do you know how point-of-view works? Have you never met a comma that didn’t vex you? If these challenges are holding you hostage in contests, you might not get the desired results when you begin submitting to agents and editors. But don’t despair! These issues can be addressed, and you can move forward with confidence that your manuscript is ready for prime time.

In my two-part class that begins on Monday, we’ll look at the most common challenges writers encounter that keep them from achieving their publication goals. For instance, does your voice match your genre? What does that even mean? Well, if you’re writing for the young adult market, for instance, you might want to find a young adult reader who can tell you if your language is current. I found out this week that saying “word” when you agree with someone is so last decade. I live with a soon-to-be fifteen-year-old who knows how kids talk. Unfortunately, I don’t write young adult. I probably should as I am living in a young adult laboratory at the moment!

How’s your blocking? Do your characters’ movements within a scene make sense? Are you forcing your readers out of your story to ask how he can possibly reach that from there? If your heroine is ripping your hero’s shirt off while he has his hand in her panties, your readers are going to say wait, how did she get that sleeve off without interrupting the goings on in her panties? You don’t want to force your readers out of the flow of the story by giving them reason to wonder how something is possible within the confines of a scene.

While we’re talking about panties, let’s consider purple prose. Throbbing members and steaming channels have no place in romance novels. There. I said it. If your love scenes are making readers, judges, agents, and editors go ewwwww, you might have a problem with purple prose. We can fix that with a few tweaks here and there that keep the emphasis on the emotion and the senses rather than the throbbing and steaming.

Whatever your challenge, identifying and owning it will save you time and trouble later. Check out View from the Judge’s Chair: What’s Holding You Back? Part 1 begins Monday at Story Stew University. As part of the class, we’ll review your first chapter and help you identify and fix these common problems. Hope to see you there!

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