It’s been awhile since we’ve posted one of these on the blog--four manuscripts ago, to be exact. Our reasons have varied. We’ve either felt like we didn’t have enough to say, or we’d said it here before (although it was still new to the author we were working with), or, in some cases, the author didn’t give us permission--we ask our authors before we discuss their work, even anonymously on the blog. But, finally, we feel like we have something fresh to say! Also, we got to work on our first middle grade story, which was very interesting for us, and we loved it. Now, onto the discussion!
One of the main things to keep in mind as a writer is to not repeat yourself. This can not only harm the showing versus telling lesson we’re all taught, but it takes a toll on your narrative. You don’t want to tell your readers the same bits of information over and over especially once you’ve moved onto another action or thought. With writing comes the question of: how much do I need to say in order for my readers to understand what I want them to? If they love the story and their interest is held, it doesn’t take much. They will take what you’ve given them and create images in their head, hold onto plot points as they read further.
Not to mention, repetition can make your narrative come across as a brick wall. You want to be moving closer and closer to the next inciting incident, conversation, or realization your character is going to have. Repetition can break the flow of the narrative and dislodge the reader from focusing on where the story is going. Don’t get me wrong, some repetition can be a stylistic choice. It’s a matter of being able to gauge when repetition is necessary or understanding that perhaps, you’ve overdone it.
A good question to ask is what is this line, paragraph, or chapter adding to the story? Is it helping the plot? Are your characters developing? Are you leaving breadcrumbs for your reader to find? Considering all of this as you write, whether immediately or in the editing process, can help cut out repetition. If you want to talk about something again, make sure it adds something or connects a piece of the puzzle. Leave the rest to your readers.
I’ve probably talked ad nauseam about the need for descriptions in stories, how they anchor readers to the prose, place them in the moment and draw them deeper into the narrative. While they might not be the skeleton of the story, they are the appendages that help build a stronger tale. With that, I’ll forgo repeating myself and, instead speak about another aspect of good storytelling that relates to our latest submission.
A good story always has a bit of mystery embedded in it, whether it’s a small, underlying subplot, or an ambitious, overarching plot that affects every aspect of the narrative. Either way, the telling of it can make or break the book. If done correctly, the author sets up a series of clues for the reader to find, each one giving only as much information as needed to guide them to the next piece. If done incorrectly, however, the reader either gets too much information too quickly and spoils the surprise, or the mystery is so deeply hidden behind convoluted events that the reveal makes no sense and feels forced upon the reader.
At the Inkwell Council, we are limited to only 3 chapters of an author’s work, so while it is possible to determine if the author gave away too much of the mystery too earlier, it is impossible to tell whether seeds planted in the early chapters grew in a natural and satisfying way. When writing a story with an underlying mystery or a mysterious element, it's always a good idea to remember to justify all strange behavior as well as the reasons for not revealing things too early. If the big reveal could have happened in chapter 1, but didn't, it must be for a believable reason. Also, if a crime occurs, and suddenly everyone acts guilty of that crime when only one person is, the story will suffer for it. Basically, don't write the plot or a character's actions to satisfy the mystery. That's a sure way to confuse the reader.
In the past, I have discussed the difference between showing and telling, and this is something that I addressed in this manuscript. However, in an attempt to keep things fresh for this blog, I will discuss my second most important edit on this manuscript--passive writing and creating distance between the narrator and the main character.
Passive writing has a strange effect on an otherwise well-written piece. For one thing, the main character isn’t experiencing things, things are happening to her. It’s a very slight difference, but it’s enough to put you at a distance from your reader. Your reader is supposed to endure things with your character. So make sure they are in the thick of it.
When your character hears something, they should hear it. If there is a scraping sound against the wooden door, the best way to state this would be, “Something scraped along the length of the wooden door,” not “she could hear a scraping sound on the wooden door.” The first one is more immediate, and a bit more spine chilling, while the second is told at a distance. The first one also uses less words than the second, something that should always be a consideration.
Whenever we get the chance, we should use the opportunity to bring our reader into a closer, more immediate situation with the main character. That way, it will be much harder for the reader to put the book down. After all, if you heard that scraping on the door, wouldn’t you want to know what creature lay beyond it?