The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts

Mistakes-blog.jpgThis is one of my favorite blogs. I wish I could claim it, but the post was actually written by Jerry Jenkins. I love his work. If you haven’t visited him, I would highly recommend you do. He did put a disclaimer at the end of this article saying it was ok to share with friends, so I am in no way stealing his work. Hope this helps someone and hope you consider visiting his site.

It doesn’t sound fair.

It doesn’t seem right.

But here’s a dirty little secret of the writing life you need to hear:

Any veteran editor can tell within two minutes whether they’re going to reject your manuscript.

It takes longer to decide whether they’ll recommend it for purchase, of course, but—sad to say—it can, and often does, go into the reject pile just that fast.

“What?” you say. “Before I’ve had a chance to wow them with my stupendous villain? Before my mind-blowing twist? Before my plot really takes off?”

Sorry.

And I’m not exaggerating.

Why?

Because the competition is so stiff and editors have so many manuscripts to read, you have only nanoseconds to grab them by the throat and hang on.

Every writing mentor hammers at this ad infinitum: Your editor is your first reader.

Every word counts. You get one chance. You must capture them from the get-go.

Am I saying editors look for reasons to reject your work?

No, no, a thousand times no! They’re looking for the next Harry Potter!

Editors want you to succeed!

Then how can they know so quickly that your book won’t cut it?

In my lifetime in the business I’ve heard dozens of reasons, but let me give you my personal top five from my experience as both an editor and publisher:

  1. Throat-clearing

This is what editors call anything that comes before a story or chapter finally, really, begins. It usually consists of a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with the story. Get your main character introduced, establish and upset some status quo, then plunge him into terrible trouble that reveals the engine of your story. Is it a quest, a journey, a challenge, what?

There’ll be plenty of time to work in all those details that seemed so important while you were throat-clearing that would have cost you a sale. For now, your job is to start with a bang.

  1. Too many characters introduced too quickly

I’m usually wary of generalizations or hard and fast rules, but almost any time I see more than three characters within the first few pages, my eyes start to swim. If I feel like I need a program to keep track of the players, I quickly lose interest.

Your reader is trying to comprehend the story, and if you ask him to start cataloging a cast of characters right away, you risk losing him. Keep things simple until the story has taken shape.

  1. Point of View violations

Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene. Violate that cardinal rule and you expose yourself as an amateur right out of the gate. Beginners often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors or citing J.K. Rowling, the exception who proves the rule.

Times change. Readers’ tastes evolve. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.

  1. Clichés, and not just words and phrases

There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock, a character describing herself while looking in a full-length mirror, future love interests literally bumping into each other upon first meeting, etc.

Also avoid beginning with an evocative, dramatic scene, and surprise, surprise, the main character wakes up to discover it’s all been a dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreams, but having them come as surprises has been used to death and takes all the air from the balloon of your story.

It’s also a cliché to have your main character feel his heart pound, race, thud, or hammer; and then he gasps, sucks wind, his breath comes short… If you describe the scene properly, your reader should experience all that and you shouldn’t have to say your character did. Put your character into a rough enough situation, and the reader will know what he’s feeling without having to be told—and hopefully, he’ll share his distress.

  1. Simply bad writing:
  • Written-ese

This is what I call that special language we all tend to use when we forget to Just Say It. I recently edited this sentence from a beginner: “The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

I had to read a few more paragraphs to have a clue to what it even meant. That’s written-ese.

Hollywood screenwriters coined this term for prose that exactly mirrors real life but fails to advance your plot. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, except that they could be synopsized to save the reader’s time and patience. A perfect example is replacing all the hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s that precede meaningful dialogue with something like: “After trading pleasantries, Jim asked Fred if he’d heard about what had happened to Tricia. ‘No, what?’”

  • Passive voice

Avoid state-of-being verbs. Change sentences like “There was a man standing…” to “A man stood…”

  • Needless words

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words,” which follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Example: The administrative assistant ushered me through the open door into the CEO’s office, and I sat down in a chair across from his big, wood desk.

Edit: Obviously, there would be a door. And even more obviously, it would be open. If I sat, I would sit “down,” and naturally it would be in a chair. Because I’m seeing the CEO, a description of his desk would be notable only if it weren’t big or wood.

Result: The administrative assistant ushered me into the CEO’s office, and I sat across from his desk.

Re-examine these 5 common mistakes, and study more self-editing tips here

-Jan R

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts

Third-Person

rsz_alternate_pov_showcaseI write in third person. It just comes natural to me. I like the ability to get into each of my charater’s heads at some point. Not all at once, mind you. That’s called head-hopping. Something I have been guilty of in the past. I use Shifting Limited? I never heard that phrase before. I just called it Limited, since I was in one head at a time.

Third-Person is an excellent choice to build suspense and create tension. Remember, If the POV character doesn’t know what’s around the corner, you don’t either. If the POV character trusts a person, that you have determined to be dishonest, the tension will build.

What are the different types of third-person narrative? Here’s a refresher for those who have been around the block a few times, and an enlightenment for the newbies.

Omniscient – This narrative is all-knowing, allowing the author to enter the minds of anyone they want. It is the preferred narrative in classic literature.  The works of Charles Dickens would be good examples.

Cinematic – The author describes events as impartially as possible. Consider yourself a fly on the wall. You see everything going on around you, but you can’t hear the character’s thoughts. Ernest Hemingway used this narrative.

Moments of high drama and physical violence, or the necessity to compress time are better served from this more distant perspective.

Limited – The narrative is limited to a single person’s perspective. If the character doesn’t know something, then the reader won’t either. This is the most prevalent approach to writing literature.

Third-Person Limited is much like First-Person with one crucial distinction. You aren’t trapped within the character’s perspective. You can look into the character’s head and know their thoughts and then back away when you would like to mute them.

Shifting Limited Or Multiple Limited – The point of view changes throughout the novel.  To avoid head-hopping, the point of view character should be limited to one per chapter,  scene, or some other easily definable chunk.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Third-Person

Point Of View?

1404775735Have you thought about the point of view you will be using when you write your novel? Whose head will you be in?

You may be wondering what I’m talking about. What is the point of view? To put it simply, it’s the voice with which you tell your story.

There are three commonly used points of view in novels. They all have their pros and cons, but if you’re a newbie, omniscient isn’t the way to go. Even accomplished writers struggle with transitions.

Omniscient/ 3rd person omniscient-

  • He/She
  • God-like. You are all knowing and all seeing. You have the ability to look into everybody’s head at once.
  • This can and usually does result in head-hopping.  If you’re not skillful enough to create a smooth transition from one person’s thoughts to another’s, and odds are you are not, don’t use it.
  • Editors and agents will guess you’re new right away because you don’t know what you’re doing.

3rd person limited

  • He/She
  • Places you in one person’s head at a time.
  • You can transition into other character’s heads, but you should limit viewpoints to one per scene, preferably chapter, ideally novel.
  • If you can limit the point of view to the protagonist, you’ll have a stronger story. Harry Potter and the Hunger Games have one viewpoint, the protagonist.
  • If you’re writing a romance, consider writing it from the female point of view.

1st person-

  • I/Me
  • You’re in one person’s head for the entirety of the novel.
  • It’s how we narrate stories we are sharing with our friends.
  •  Your reader becomes the character and believes everything is real.
  • The reader is drawn into the story much quicker than with other points of view.
  • 1st person forces you to stay in one point of view, which makes it a great choice for new writers.

I didn’t mention 2nd person point of view because it is rarely used in novels. 2nd person is you/your and is commonly used in instructional writing.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Point Of View?

Do Your Homework!

imagesDoes your manuscript have to be perfect?  If you’ve already written a best seller, your agent and editor may cut you some slack. If not, yes, that book better be pretty darn near  perfect, or nobody is going to look at it.  Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. They don’t have time to read everyone.  If your work is full of grammatical and structural errors, that’s all the excuse they need to toss it to the side and move on to the next one.

I sent my first manuscript out to five different agents.  I was very excited and a little anxious to hear what they had to say.  I expected some rejections but not all.  I had put  over a year into that novel.  It was my baby.

Well, two didn’t respond at all, one said no thanks, and another said it wasn’t what they were looking for. The fifth one responded with a rejection, but also included a why. There were numerous grammatical and structural errors, I was head hopping, and the dialogue dragged.

While I was disappointed, I did take her advice to heart and began the process of editing and correcting structural and grammatical errors.  I was one of those people that fell for the myth that it didn’t have to be perfect, they have editors to clean that up for you.

I also took on-line courses on writing dialogue that moves your story forward. I had never really thought about dialogue moving a story forward, but I see it now, and have a pretty good understanding of what the on-line instructors were trying to get across.

As far as the POV goes, I never heard  of ‘head hopping’.  I went to google and typed it in. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, but it can be tricky at times and sneak in when you least expect it 🙂

Truth be known, I was ashamed of myself for sending such poor work to an agent.  I never realized how bad it was until I began the arduous process of editing and revising. I definitely didn’t make a good first impression.

Do your homework. When you’re writing your first novel, there is so much you don’t know. You’ll figure that out along the way. It’s a lot more complicated than just putting pen to paper. And you probably thought anybody could do it. 

I hope my blogs help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I have made.

-Jan R

Do Your Homework!

Nobody’s Perfect

imagesWhen you write, you should relax and enjoy the process. Don’t become obsessed with perfection. Nobody’s perfect. Most published novels aren’t perfect.

Since I’ve started writing, I’ve developed a keen eye for errors. They just jump off the page. If you’ve been writing for a while, you probably experience the same thing.

I love historical novels and read them every chance I get. I run into at least 2-3 errors in every novel. It usually is something as simple as using ‘the’ for ‘they’ or leaving off an ‘s’ on a word that should be plural, but because I have a trained eye, I see it, and am pulled out of the story.

Does it ruin the experience for me? Not at all. As a matter of fact, I feel better about my own writing.  Nobody’s perfect, and that’s okay. With that being said, note I only see 2-3 in a 350 page novel, and not one on every other page.

The quest for perfection leads to writer’s block.  It can paralyze an author. It’s great that you aim for perfection. That is what you want, but don’t allow your fear of making a mess keep you from moving forward.

Truth is, your first draft is going to be raw, awkward, and full of errors. That’s why we go back and edit, edit, edit.

Another question to ask yourself, is what is perfection? I’m not talking about  grammatically and structurally sound sentences, I’m talking about every little component that goes into making a great novel.

Did you know that your idea of perfection changes as you gain more and more experience in writing?

When I finished my novel, I went back and corrected all of the grammatical and structural errors and considered it complete and pretty darn near perfect.

I didn’t know the rules for Point Of View. I was head-hopping all over the place. So my work wasn’t perfect, and I was breaking a cardinal rule, which allowed the agent to pick up on the fact that I was an amateur.

I also didn’t know the rules for writing dialogue. Nobody told me your dialogue had to move the story forward. Most people don’t want to stop and smell the daisies. They want the meat, and they want to get to the action. So my work wasn’t perfect.

Keep writing! Your work won’t be perfect on the first go round. So accept that and get over it. It’s okay, you’re not alone. No writer, published or unpublished, writes a perfect first draft. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.

I use to say get it done, then get it good. What I mean by that, is write that first draft knowing it’s full of errors. Get your ideas on paper before they fade away. Then go back and begin the refining process.  You want it as near to perfect as possible before querying an agent or self-publishing.

-Jan R

 

 

Nobody’s Perfect

Head Hopping Again? (Revised)

headhoppingI had a segment of my book critiqued today and got dinged on the POV. I couldn’t believe it. The reviewer was correct. I was jumping into the head of several of my main characters throughout the segment.

I know that for whatever reason, this writing 101 concept does not come easy for me. I also know, that if you want a book published, you had better get the POV under control.

I sent my novel to an agent, prematurely I might add, and she was kind enough to reject it with reasons why. I was head hopping. To be honest, I had never heard that term before. Being a novice, untrained in the art of creative writing, I’ve had to learn my way around this world. There’s a lot more to it than being able to string a group of sentences together.

The secret to making your POV work is limiting it to one perspective per scene, chapter, or book. When you start jumping around from one POV character to another in the same scene/paragraph/sentence you have committed a cardinal sin. HEAD HOPPING.

If you are writing in Third Person, which I do,  and Lauren is your POV character, you can’t write–Lauren said she would meet Janie at the mall, but Janie didn’t believe her. I was just in Lauren’s head and Janie’s head. How am I suppose to know what Janie is thinking, if I’m limited to Lauren’s POV? What you could write is –Lauren said she would meet Janie at the mall, but she could tell from her friend’s response, that she didn’t believe her.

Hope this helped somebody.

-Jan R

Head Hopping Again? (Revised)

Avoid Speed Bumps

1490400252235When you’re writing a novel, you want your story to keep moving forward from beginning to end. If your reader stops at any point while reading, you have set up a speed bump and created an opportunity for your reader to slip out of their suspension of disbelief.

You want them to continue at a nice, smooth pace until the end, accepting every coincidence and slightly questionable story line. They should be lost in the story not in your words.

Common Speed Bumps of Aspiring Authors

Beautified Prose/Written-eese

“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you’re like me, you had to read it several times

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well.

On-The-Nose Writing

Prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story.

Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.       

“This is Paige,” she said.

“Hey, Paige.”

She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is.  I think you’re getting the point.

Narrative Dumps

Prose that comes out of nowhere and does nothing but describe, is known as a ‘narrative dump’. It can bring your story to a stand still and pull your reader out of the action. Instead of progressing through your storyline, they find themselves on the outside looking in.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings, and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

One word of caution when using research material to make your story more authentic, remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story. Don’t make them centerstage. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with unnecessary information.

Head Hopping

If you switch POV characters to quickly or dive into the heads of too many characters at once, it can Jar the reader and break the intimacy with the scenes main character. In other words, going back and forth between POV characters, can give a reader whiplash. You should never have more than one POV character per scene.

You should also avoid run-on sentences, close the thesaurus (I think you know what I’m getting at), and purchase a copy of ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk and White-I’m just saying 🙂

-Jan R

Avoid Speed Bumps