After choosing our lottery winner for the month, we had the chance to dunk back into our submission pool and choose another great story, an epic fantasy with a fun main character. Below, you’ll find what tips we chose to share that were inspired by working with this manuscript. As always, we hope they serve to teach all of our readers a little more about their own manuscripts as well. Also, we will be opening up to submissions again for a 24 hour period on July 5th, so if you're interested, check out the "How To Reach Us" portion of the site for information on how to submit.
I’ve spoken before of the importance of starting a manuscript as close as possible to the inciting incident. You definitely want to start with a bang. That is how you get your reader along for the ride and 100% hooked. Once you have that momentum, however, you must capitalize on it. When you’re telling a story, you never want to lose momentum. You want to start strong and build momentum from there, so the reader is, even in the quiet moments, eager to know what happens next. If you lose the momentum, you could lose the reader.
Some writers start their stories with flashbacks or dreams. Some go back and tell us what happened before Chapter 1. Some just write a boring, stale Chapter 2 without any of the excitement that made us love the first chapter. That is how you lose momentum.
If you open with a flashback or a dream, you destroy your reader’s idea of what the stakes are in the story. They believe the stakes will be one way, then you pull the rug out from under them and give them different stakes. That doesn’t build momentum, it makes the reader wonder why they’re reading.
When you start your story at a point and then move back to the point before that, you’ve killed any momentum you’ve been gaining by telling us what happens to your characters before you truly get the story underway and if you don’t maintain the same level of momentum, your story could lose the reader’s interest by Chapter 2--and that’s the last thing you want.
A good story must have solid pacing, a natural ebb and flow to the narrative for the purpose of creating the clearest story possible. Poor pacing—even in small doses—can cause the reader to walk away from a story. Having a large, complex sentence is not wrong in and of itself, but when you have several, closely packed together, it can form a wall around which the reader might feel trapped. Likewise, too many short blunt sentences—artistic license notwithstanding—can make the narrative feel stunted and abrupt. The key is to alternate between the two in the right places, and to use the sentences that best reflect the events occurring in the story. For action scenes, it usually serves the narrative better to have shorter, direct sentences, but too many can work against you and make the action read like a list of ingredients, so be cautious.
The same applies to the story at large. It is possible to have a good flow to one’s sentence structures, while creating a narrative in which it is difficult to remain engaged. Breaking an action sequence to expound upon a bit of information the reader might need to know can hurt the story. The story as a whole must have a seamless flow, even when transitioning from action to dialogue and vice versa. As always, a useful method of ferreting out these stumbling points in the story is to read it aloud. Usually, even if you don’t know what’s wrong with a sentence or a scene, if you read it aloud, you’ll catch that something doesn’t sound right. You might find yourself struggling to get the sentence out or tripping over a part. That’s because your mind knows something is wrong, and it’s always best to reevaluate those parts, to see how it can be reworded or rewritten for maximum impact.
An important thing to pay attention to while writing is sentence structure, not just the ebb and flow of a sentence, but how it comes across to a reader. Long sentences are often fine as long as they’re grammatically correct. They even fit in certain genres like high fantasy. However, sometimes these sentences become run ons and what a writer is trying to say dissolves. You don’t want your audience to reread the same sentence in order to understand it. You want your narrative to move smoothly from one sentence to the next. An easy way to fix this problem is to chop the sentence in half and form two sentences, or add punctuation which allows pause. Without these things, you can lose momentum or the point trying to be conveyed. You want your message to be given to the reader in the most concise way possible.
This leads me into my next point of comma usage. Any time a character is switching actions or you need to take a breath, a comma should go there. If there is a lot happening in your story, you’ll want commas to stop your thoughts from going on and on without a connection to one another.
“He reached for his sword locking his emotions away before the big fight.”
In the sentence above, reaching for his sword and his emotions are just kind of dangling together.
“He reached for his sword, locking his emotions away before the big fight.”
In this example, these phrases are connected, and follow after each other. Commas can be super tricky to pin down, but a lot of it comes from practice. In the end, it will only help your story.