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.

1 comment:

  1. Yep. My first complete version always has these three issues, but the question is what path do we take to the final version. Your tips 1 and 3 are on the spot. Writers should go over their original first 50 pages and cut what isn't relevant for the story moving on. Writers should slow down on the ending because this is what will be most fresh in minds of readers when they read the last word. While you can leave one issue unanswered for readers to ponder, the ending should be a comprehensive closure to the story and at least for the main character. What might be open to debate is tip 2. It's great that Jenny offers a departure from the rigid rule of showing not telling. This rule is most appropriate for poetry which is about images and you read it slowly to relish every sentence. In a novel which is after all about telling a story, following the rule of showing might slow the reading and also will limit the number of readers. When you write that the MC is tired every reader gets it. But if you try to show it, and some readers don't get it they will be frustrated. Hopefully, those in the publishing industry will think about books reaching all readers and relax the grip of Showing Not Telling in writing. Chantilla the Nun.