Sunday, May 24, 2015

From the archives: Beginnings, Endings, and the stuff in between - a post from Jenny

Continuing our posts on editing, an fantastic archived post from Jenny Bent:

Lately I've been reading some really otherwise great manuscripts that seem to share the same three problems.  Since I'm seeing these missteps so much, I'm figuring that maybe I should write about them in the hopes that my advice will apply to the books of some of the readers of this blog as well.  The good news is that these problems are all very fixable--so read on and see if you think your book might be suffering from these same three writerly mistakes.

1. You don't need the first 50 pages.   Let me clarify.  You needed to *write* the first 50 pages.   You needed them to understand your characters better by giving them a back story.   But now that the book is done, your characters are alive and interesting and informed by the knowledge that these pages gave you.   So while you needed to write these pages, the reader doesn't need to read them.   Trust your characters to reveal themselves in the rest of the book and cut out the back story that is now slowing your book down.  

2. Your characters need to *feel* more.   I think "show don't tell" has been drummed into our heads so long and so often that we forget that we do need to let the reader into our characters' heads.   While we don't want you to do a big info dump of character development and we do want your characters to reveal themselves through action, you still also need to tell us sometimes what they are thinking and feeling along with that.  Let's call your main character Bob.  If you put Bob in a crazy situation, remember to tell us what his reaction is to that situation--or poor Bob will feel flat and lifeless to the reader.

3.  Your ending is rushed.  Readers love a satisfying ending.   Think of all the times you raced through a book only to feel let down by the ending.  Try to go in the opposite direction with your book.   I find a lot of writers want to have ambiguity or loose ends in an ending and I think that often that's the wrong impulse.   The beauty of a book, as opposed to life, is that we can have an ending that ties things up, or at least ties a lot of things up.   An ending should also provide a thorough, complex explanation of any motivations or happenings that seemed mysterious throughout the book.   I'm noticing that many of the endings I am reading in unpubbed manuscripts these days would be improved by adding at least an entire chapter of material.  

Do you feel your manuscript might share some of these issues?  Let me know in the comments.   And happy revising!


Click here for the original post for further interesting discussions in the comments.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Deal Announcement - Two more books in Sam Watkins' CREATURE TEACHER series!

I am thrilled to announce that OUP have acquired two more books in TBA client Sam Watkins’ CREATURE TEACHER series, to be illustrated again by super-talented David O’Connell.

CREATURE TEACHER is a fun twist on Jekyll and Hyde and tells the story of Jake and his classmates as they try to hide their teacher when he turns into a naughty little creature. High jinks, disasters, hilarious illustrations and the occasional fart joke make this series a brilliant addition to the shelves of any young fiction fans.

CREATURE TEACHER is out now, and book 2, CREATURE TEACHER GOES WILD, publishes on 1st August 2015. Books 3 and 4 will follow in 2016.

Please congratulate Sam on Twitter @_sam_watkins

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Deal Announcement: S.L. Smith's adult suspense DICKSON PARK to Tor/Forge!

As soon as this query came in, I knew I had to have it. Compelling voice, eerie atmosphere, creepy town. Clearly, all my faves. Gotta love creepy towns.

Today, I am so happy to announce that this book has found its perfect editor: Amy Stapp at Tor/Forge. Same as me, Amy was hooked from the start and her enthusiasm for the project is kind of contagious. I hope you'll all join in on the celebration and keep an eye out for this one!

S.L. Smith's category debut DICKSON PARK, in which a woman returns to her small North Dakotan town to find the connection between her recently disappeared twin and the murder of a high school student with whom he was rumored to have an affair, to Amy Stapp at Forge, in a two-book deal, by Beth Phelan at The Bent Agency (World English).

And thanks to this, I'm swinging my door WIDE OPEN for more projects like it. So send me your creepy adult suspense and thrillers!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Revision Focus: Dialogue Tags, a post from Gemma

Continuing our month discussing revision, we have a great post from the archives by TBA agent Gemma Cooper:

Dialogue tags are tricky beasts, and in submissions and client manuscripts I find the same errors come up again and again. Can you spot these errors in the examples? 

“I saw a shark!” the woman screamed.

“Don’t talk rubbish,” the Captain dismissed, “there are no sharks in these waters.”

“I did,” she insisted.

“I think I did also,” the young boy added.

“You've both gone sea-crazy,” the Captain snapped, looking over the bow of the old boat and into the water. 

Like all my posts, I’m not going to claim these are beautifully written passages, but it should be obvious what the main problem is with them. The crazy dialogue tags! You trip over them, they are hard to read, and worst of all, they tell you how to read the dialogue, rather than the dialogue being strong enough to stand on its own. There is nothing wrong with “he said” – it’s a practically invisible phrase that readers scan over. English teachers all over the world can be blamed for teaching us not to use “said” and to use something more flowery. But we must stop! 

Of course, you can use other dialogue tags – asked, shouted, screamed, added – but in moderation. Too many and your reader will struggle to hear your dialogue as natural conversation.

Just as the Captain peered into the water, a great white shark jumped up, snapping his powerful jaws just inches from the old sea dog.

“Oh my God!” the Captain said loudly. 

“So there are no sharks, then?” the woman said sarcastically.

“Well, I—I've never seen. Just, wow!” the Captain said in a shocked tone, backing further away from the edge.

“Can we go back to shore now?” the boy asked hopefully.

As with the earlier example, these adverbs after the dialogue tags are telling the reader how to read the sentence. Again, dialogue should be strong enough to convey the tone without it being spelt out. It’s basically the ‘show not tell’ that we agents are always going on about!

The Captain grabbed his harpoon gun. “No way am I going back. I’m going to catch that bad boy,” he said, knowing that this catch could clear all the debts he had on the boat, which hadn't exactly been paying for itself with undersubscribed tourist fishing trips.

“Oh, no! Please, sir, please can we go back,” sobbed the boy, who’d always been afraid of water after nearly drowning at his very first swimming lesson.

“Yes, please. I’ll pay you extra,” the terrified woman said, hoping that her bank account wasn't overdrawn again after her gambling ex-husband got hold of her new bank card.

I’m sure it’s obvious, but this is very expositional. It’s telling the reader something about a character in a really awkward and unnatural way. This should be a high-tension scene, so would the woman really be thinking about her ex-husband? 

“Pay me extra, eh?” The Captain stepped towards the woman, wondering if that was a better offer than risking his neck trying to catch a big shark. “Now that I might be interested in.”

“I can get some cash when we get ashore.” The woman fumbled with her wallet, seeing nothing but a one-dollar bill.

“Okay, then.” He put down the gun. “I suppose I’m too old to be hunting sharks.”

The boy jumped from his seat and hugged the old man. “Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.”

“Don’t fuss, now!” The Captain shrugged the boy off and turned the ship back to shore. 

It’s fine to not use dialogue tags at all, and to show who is talking by interspersing the dialogue with beats or movement. But add too many beats and the dialogue doesn't flow, leading to all the pace being sucked out of a dramatic scene (not that this is a very dramatic piece of writing, considering a shark just appeared!).

As with all ‘rules,’ these are just guidelines for polishing your work. If you know the rules, then you’ll know when it’s okay to break them. Maybe you want to use a beat, or perhaps giving a little bit of exposition is right for your plot at that stage of your story. Use in moderation and the reader will barely notice. What you don’t want to do is pull the reader out of the story,” said the slightly excitable literary agent who was wondering what editing tips she would blog about next time.