This time around, The Inkwell Council jumped outside of our chosen Fantasy genre. After seeing a chat on twitter in which an author said she wished she could submit to us, but she writes dystopian science fiction. While we all had agreed to only take fantasy manuscripts, we also read and love dystopian science fiction. We told the author that we’d consider her submission with the rest of them, and in the end, her dystopian science fiction submission came out on top.
Still, we had advice to offer, and we each will be discussing our strongest notes on the project here.
Much of the time, as writers, when we write our first drafts, we aren’t worried about theme or symbolism. We’re just trying to tell the story that has entered our minds and decided to haunt us. As we start to unpack that story, we often start figuring out our symbols, our themes, what exactly it is we are trying to say with the story we’ve created. That’s part of the magic of story. These ideas were probably in the background the entire time, but didn’t assert themselves until we started to weave the story together.
Because of this, some of our symbols don’t always have a place in the beginning of the book, or we can mix messages throughout as we struggle to pick up that thread that becomes the statement of our tale.
This means that when we reread the manuscript for the first time, one of the things we should have on our checklist of things to look for should be any symbolism we have threaded through the novel, as well as our overall theme. The idea is to make sure you don’t contradict yourself or try to cram in too many themes at the beginning that die out in the course of the story. If you do, that is something that needs to be corrected.
What we want our readers to experience is much like what we experienced when we were initially constructing the story. We want the reader to be taken in by your words, and we want them to enjoy the story. Along the way, we want them to begin to understand why you’re telling this story, what you’re trying to say, and when they get there, to that glorious a-ha moment, we want them to be able to say, “Now I get it. This is where they were heading the whole time.” And we want them to have proof of the path it took for them to get there.
Whenever you create a character, conveying them to your reader will be done in three ways: action, dialogue, and thought. The biggest challenge is making sure all of these things align. Are your character’s words lining up with how they’re acting and feeling? If not, is there a reason or do you have to take a step back and figure out what is going on? As we write and edit, we are always going to run into problems with making everything tie together, but if we want our characters and messages strong, the work will always be worth it.
Sometimes when we try to convey thoughts, especially for characters that have a lot going on, we can get stuck between utilizing our language and writing via stream of consciousness. What the latter means is we write how we ourselves would think. Stream of consciousness is similar to a flow of water, moving from one thought to the next and then to the next. Our brain runs through many thoughts at once and it’s one thing to interpret it from within, another to write it down coherently while sticking to grammatical rules. This can lead to run on sentences or sentences that get clunky and weighed down.
The best way to stop this is by inserting punctuation. If a sentence is separated by too many commas or ands, more than likely you need to place a period there. Sometimes, you may even need a dash. These punctuation marks indicate full stops, a way for the reader to gain a reprieve and reflect on what you’re saying without feeling overwhelmed. Not only that, but your manuscript will read more smoothly and demonstrate what you need to say or what your character needs to say. The last thing you want as a writer is for your character to come across unclear or their thoughts to be scattered about without anything to tether them to.
As writers we are tasked with creating a story that is unique. Nowadays, the market is saturated with all kind of books and it can be daunting to write a story that offers the reader something new, even if it has elements we've all seen before. More importantly, we need to write a story that is interesting to us. If the story doesn't interest the writer, it won't hook the reader.
The problem inherent in this duality is you end up serving two masters: yourself and your reader. And as any writer can tell you, the reader may not share your view on what is interesting and what is not. That one element of the story that you cherish may strike the reader as unnecessary, or worse, confusing, and you run the risk of trying to force a concept down the reader’s throat.
Of course, you shouldn't write solely for readers, but endeavor to help them understand what it is about your idea that you find fascinating. In essence, you need to justify it. And if you cannot, if the reader cannot see why a thing or an event or a person is important to the story, then maybe it isn't. Or maybe it simply needs a little reworking. This doesn't mean you have to cater to the reader exactly, but guide them so they walk that literary path alongside you, not struggling to catch up a few miles behind.
While it can sound difficult, it isn't an impossible hurdle to cross. Everyone must find their own way of walking that tightrope, but I find it helpful to write to satisfy the story itself, not yourself or the reader.