We have officially completed work on our second manuscript. As before, we always keep the door open for our alumni. We love to hear how our edits were received and how the manuscript does once it’s out of our hands. So we hope to hear from both of them soon!
This time around we had another positive author, ready to tackle their manuscript, which was great, because the edits in this one were more global. While the story will require a big edit, when it comes out of the other side, it is going to be an amazing tale.
As before, we spoke with the author, and she was fine with us anonymously discussing her story here. Below, you will find each member of The Inkwell Council as they discuss one writing tip they wished to share from their work on this manuscript. We hope it helps all of our readers.
When choosing the manuscripts they will work with, agents and publishers tend to follow an industry-wide standard for the word count, especially with new writers. For a list of acceptable word counts generally used by agents and publishers, Lit Rejections, a website that works as a kind of online support group on dealing with rejections, has a great list here.
Word count can often be a problem with new writers. It is actually my personal Achilles heel, so I have researched, devised, and been introduced to several ways to go back through your draft and trim some words. These methods almost always work toward the betterment of the manuscript, as well. Those word count guidelines are usually there for a reason.
Read through each scene in your manuscript. First of all, is it necessary? If it doesn’t show character development or advance the plot, pull the scene and adjust the narrative to make sure it doesn’t lose anything. If only a line or two is necessary in a two page scene, find another way to communicate that information in the remaining framework.
Once you’ve decided to keep the scene, analyze it to make sure there are no portions of the scene that aren’t necessary. Details are great. Details that have no point weigh down the manuscript.
Search and destroy repetitive phrasing. Tighten up your prose by finding more concise ways to express certain ideas, and eliminating unnecessary words like “that”, and “very”. “That is almost always unneeded in a sentence. “Very ______” can almost always be replaced by a stronger descriptor. “Very tired” is much stronger when it’s “exhausted”.
To cut this many words, you truly need to be ruthless, you need to kill your darlings. However, accomplishing this will strengthen your story.
If you decide to be a writer, the first lesson you’re likely told is ‘show, don’t tell.’ What this means is you craft words to convey what you want to say. Create an image, not a summary. There are instances where telling works efficiently: recapping events quickly to another character, summing up time that has passed. It will always be a case by case basis however, the preference leaning towards taking the reader on a journey with every page. The benefit of language is there are a lot of words at a writer’s disposal. Combine them with individual voice and showing becomes a unique stamp for each writer. Everyone describes emotions, setting, and characters differently. It is how we continue to gravitate towards reading and reacting to the stories we are being told.
One of the major influences in a story are its characters. Your readers want to feel what they feel, go through the whirlwind of discovery and conflict as it happens. My main advice here is trust your readers. Avoid the usage of ‘very’ or sprinkling your prose with adverbs. Don’t say a character is angry. Convey their anger. Say they balled up their fists or clenched their jaw or had people stepping out of their reach in trepidation. Your readers will get the indication. They will see this character shaking with rage as opposed to having to do the work to decipher what angry means, especially since anger, like any emotion, exhibits a different reaction for everyone who experiences it.
On the other end of this discussion, don’t repeat yourself. It will drag down the pacing of your narrative as will it hammer a point home that has been made and made vividly. Showing and telling is like a song and dance, finding the balance between making your point known and knowing when you’ve done the job successfully.
Words are the tools the author wields to craft a story. A writer’s word choice has a powerful effect on the narrative of any story. Word choices can change the context of a scene and how the reader perceives the story. Strategically placed words can be like breadcrumbs, leading a reader to a specific conclusion. Savvy readers look for these clues to try to figure out where the story is going. Which is why, as authors, we must be mindful of this and choose our words carefully or we risk unintentionally misleading the reader. Such a wrong turn could lead to the reader feeling disappointed, confused, or even cheated out of a story they thought they were reading instead of the one they actually were.
Even the presentation of words can influence how the reader perceives the story. Capitalizing words that are not normally capitalized or italicizing them gives them special emphasis. In the former case, it leads the reader to think of the capitalized words as having a unique and separate meaning from that of its lowercase counterpart. So it is prudent for writers not to use capitalizations of italics too lightly.
Made up languages for stories are no exception. Not every writer will go to the lengths that Tolkien did in creating a backstory for their worlds, but whether one is creating an entire language or just using snippets of one in their story, one should be consistent in the rules governing those words. If your word for lake sounds too much like your word for poison, there should be a reason for that other than you were in a hurry and just changed a couple of letters in your lake word; the readers will pick up on that similarity and expect that the writer did it on purpose.
That’s all for this time! Submissions close tomorrow, so don’t forget to submit your manuscript for the the council treatment. And remember, if you aren’t selected this time, you are automatically submitted for the next round. Until next time, happy writing!
Our very own Megan Manzano is guest posting over at author Liz Meldon's blog today, discussing her first experience with being edited. The rest of the council also gets a mention. ;) Check it out here, and show Liz some love while you're at it.
We have just completed working on our first manuscript as a team and we are excited. Not only did our work together run very smoothly, but working with the author was a positive experience which made things that much easier. We spoke with the author, and she was fine with us discussing her story here in as much or as little detail as we chose. We are choosing to keep it anonymous, as we’re not sure how comfortable future authors will be with any discussion, let alone a completely open discussion. We will leave that choice in the hands of the authors we work with.
For now, please read below as each member of The Inkwell Council discusses one writing tip they wished to share from their work on this manuscript.
Everyone tells you to show and not to tell. This is bad advice. Showing should be your primary method of storytelling, but telling is still necessary. What you really need as a writer is balance between the two.
Showing is important for the scenes of the story, i.e. significant conversations between characters, moments when something happens. But then you’ve got other things. You’ve got transitional scenes. You’ve got scenes where characters have to catch up other characters on events that have transpired. In stories with multiple points of view, you sometimes have scenes that overlap between them. For these, a quick telling of events can save you tons of unneeded words and can keep your story from dragging.
Another thing to watch out for is to steer clear of showing and telling. In other words, trust your audience. If you show something, don’t then tell it. For instance, if you create a strong description of a person dealing with an emotion, don’t then say they were dealing with an emotion. You’re doubting in the ability of your audience to pick up your subtle clues, and you’re being repetitive. If you have both showing and telling of one thing in your manuscript, always choose the showing.
But if you realize you’re writing about a character’s entire morning routine in which nothing of any import happens, it’s certainly time to tell.
One way a writer can keep their reader interested is through the flow of their sentences. What I mean by this is how long or short a sentence is. Shorter sentences can indicate finality, a conclusion abruptly reached, impending danger and so on. Longer sentences can capture description, scenery, a mood; there are no limits. When pairing longer and shorter sentences together, you create a rhythm for your reader. As strong as your language may be, it can be heightened or hindered by how you form sentences.
The questions to ask are when is it the right to time to end a sentence and what punctuation do I use? A tip I like to give for the first question is read the sentence aloud if you are unsure. Hearing it with your own voice can sometimes indicate a lot more than when you are reading in your head. For the latter, it can vary. A semicolon is great to use when you are connecting two similar ideas. It can break up run on sentences that are clunky with an over usage of commas. Make sure however that your sentences are grammatically correct, as opposed to phrases that are dangling without a proper place. The second option is to use a period to form two separate sentences. Lastly, depending on the sentence and what it indicates, you can use words like while, and, or then. The importance of knowing what punctuation to use and when to cut your sentences will strengthen your prose. Your reader won’t get tripped up while trying to understand what you want to communicate nor will they feel as if it is taking too long to move from one idea to the next. Like most characteristics of writing, it comes down to finding a balance and what works for the story you are creating.
Throughout the story, one thought continued to resurface, and it is an issue that arises in many stories from many authors: setting. Setting can sometimes be a character onto itself, and it helps the reader draw conclusions about the world in which they are reading. It also helps to set mood, tone, and can sometimes reflect the emotions or thoughts of the character without the character having to do anything to show it (ie: shadows concealing a man’s face to point at the secrecy that surrounds him, or the physical terrain of a journey mirroring the emotional one of the traveler). Even the absence of setting tells us, as readers, a lot about a story, leaving it to us to fill in blanks without restrictions.
However one uses setting, it is undeniably important to the story. There is no hard and fast rule for when to zoom in and focus on a detail and when to pull back and let the reader’s imagination do the work. Which is why deciding how to establish the world in your story can be difficult. The goal is to integrate the necessary descriptions into the narrative in such a way as to bring the world to life without it feeling forced or overbearing. Seamless mergers like that are not easy. I usually try to navigate that high wire act by anchoring information about the setting (and other descriptions) to other parts of the narrative. But sometimes, some places or descriptions need a paragraph of their own, to emphasize the importance of the location or so that the reader does not miss the point.
Again, there is no hard and fast rule about that, it’s really up to the writer to see what ‘feels’ right in their story and pick what they feel is the best way to use setting descriptions to enhance their world.
Okay, all, if you’re interested in submitting the first three chapters and query of your fantasy manuscript or your short story to The Inkwell Council for a full edit and analysis, please email email@example.com. We will start the selection process for our next manuscript on January 18th. Good luck!