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Editing, a process (or, why we leave this for last) :)

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Caged Maiden, Mar 14, 2014.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Inspired by Wormtongue's thread about "Show/ Tell", a topic that gets raised every so often, I'd like to do a quick (no, it took me almost two hours to do this) workshop for all the new people we have here that haven't seen me do this before. Understand that this is MY process, one I invented on my own after two years of trying stuff. I'm not saying this is the only way or even the best, just the one that works for me. Okay, disclaimer out of the way, here's my thinking:

    In this workshop, I am dissecting my opening scene from my WIP. I am posting the first draft, the critique I'd do if I were doing it for someone else, and the edited version I'm really happy with. I'm talking about MY style. I don't like beginning info dumps. I don't like slow-developing set-ups that expound on terrain or history. You WILL have to tailor this technique to your own style and purpose. This particular novel is about spies and subterfuge, so it demanded a pretty dramatic opening, not a: A decade of civil war left Kanassa devastated, peasants looking to their religious leaders to heal their broken souls. It was that thought that brought Yvette to the cathedral that day... Not gonna work for my purposes. I needed to get images through right away and forget the history. Honestly, the reader doesn't care about that. They want to know a character. Okay, so here's the first draft version:

    Not terrible, but definitely in need of improvement. Here's my honest crit for the passage I just read. I do this the same for everyone, including myself.
     
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  2. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    MY CRITUQUE

    That sentence is a bit unclear. So the young man enters blocking her shot of what? And I'd recommend breaking this to give more weight to the knife. The element is good but could be better if it left a clearer impression. This IS your first line, let's give the reader a very clear image of where she is and what she intends to do with the knife.

     
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  3. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    My revised opening:



    1 Vendetta (Revenge)

    WC: 4127

    Hay Moon 18

    Merciless Doll clung to a narrow window ledge, watching and waiting. Inside Kanassa’s great Radan cathedral, Lazaro Marcello, the prominent religious leader of the republic, sat at his desk. Partly obscured by a stack of books, he wasn’t making himself an easy target. She slid a throwing knife from its sheath.

    After a moment to steady her breath, she chanced a peek down at the courtyard below. Northern mercenaries served as private guards for the figurehead of the church, residing in the holy city of Edri, far to the south, and for high-ranking clergy members throughout the southern states. Clad in teal capes rather than iron or steel, Edrian Guards carried rapiers at their hips and struck deadly fast like cobras, the products of years spent studying with the region’s sword masters.

    Predictable patrols, a weakness of all men forced to the tedious task, Merciless Doll found the east side clear for the moment. It was all she needed, a moment.

    She bit her lip. Throw and run, and she might escape before anyone knew Lazaro was dead. It seemed a shame to miss watching him gasp his last, but if she remained to make sure the job was done, she’d be cornered and pay with her life—too steep a price even for revenge.

    Blade pinched between thumb and first finger, she pulled her arm back. One, two, three… the numbers ticked by in her head. It was Lazaro Marcello, who taught her to count before striking. “Patience,” he always said, “is Rada’s greatest virtue. If you want the gods to guide you, give them a chance to intervene.” Of course, he’d been speaking of thievery, knowing when to move and when to keep to the shadows, but what a versatile lesson it was.

    “Your Eminence,” a muffled voice called through the door. Merciless Doll ducked, keeping her eyes on her target as he looked up, startled or interrupted from some very important business at his desk. Probably neither. It was just as likely he was signing his name to an artist’s contract. Portraits of the vain cleric bedecked the halls of the cathedral and one might infer by the very specific style he admired, that Lazaro Marcello deified himself. That, or he and The Holy Light, Rada, shared very similar facial characteristics.

    “Enter,” the aging cleric called, still fixed in his seat. He slipped his biretta upon his head to cover the bald spot.

    Merciless Doll stretched her legs, anticipating a wait but prepared to run if need be.

    A young man dressed in all the trappings of the upper class entered the private office. A chain around his shoulders indicated his position as a city official, maybe a senator or councilor of the justice court. He doffed his cap and bowed before the old man, and stood right in front of the desk, between Marcello and the window.

    Of course.

    Merciless Doll crouched out of sight, cursing under her breath. She should have been quick, decisive. Killing was a young person’s game, though. She had no business pretending she was an assassin. Merely a woman with a grudge and a bloodlust that wouldn’t be quelled by anything but the old man’s demise.

    “How could they put Savio Marco to death after reading the documents I sent?” The young man’s voice quivered with stifled anguish.

    Lazaro Marcello hesitated before responding. “My only guess is that your letter did not reach His Holiness in time.”

    “Your Eminence, I cannot believe that. You sent those documents yourself.”

    “I did. However, Edri is a complicated city, where many powerful men create alliances with often dubious intentions.”

    “You think Savio Marco was some sort of sacrifice?” His voice strained to get out the words without choking. “To what end? He was a humble Kanassan priest in the Order of Divines, not connected to Edrian politics. What reason would anyone have to falsely accuse a savio of heresy?”

    What reason, indeed? Merciless Doll wiped a sweaty hand on her shirt’s sleeve. The late afternoon burned, though the sun sank low. She had to leave before the guard changed at six bells. After, Marcello would be under watchful eyes while he dined and spent the remainder of the evening in his windowless apartment complete with Edrian Guards at the door to every chamber.

    “We must ask Rada to protect Savio Marco’s soul now. What good will our voiced regrets and sympathy do him?”

    Merciless Doll could hear it in his voice, a hint of amusement. Just another example of the shameless way he toyed with people. Could a cloud of locusts have regrets or a lion offer its sympathy? Nature deemed some animals to be killers, destroyers. Lazaro Marcello was one of them.

    He continued without missing a beat. “The wars in the north have not been fought without consequences. The supporters for the Order of Divines are many and His Holiness has powerful adversaries working against him, even within his closest circle.”

    The young man’s voice trembled. “This tragedy will not go unpunished, whatever the reasoning. Whoever is responsible for Savio Marco’s death must pay.”

    Exuding the cool confidence of a fox in a henhouse, the old man kept his tone even. “If you want to avenge your friend, I will help you.” His chair slid across the tile floor. “I have a certain amount of influence in Edri. Some important people owe me a favor or two.”

    Curious, Merciless Doll dared a peek. Her old friend’s crimson arm draped over the young man’s shoulder as if consoling a friend. “We will do this together. When I get the name, you must leave for Edri and take care of our traitor. Kill him before he can profit from the esteemed savio’s death.”

    “Is this a jest?” the young man responded, shrugging off the arm. “I’m not killing anyone. I’ll use the law to appeal to His Holiness and have Savio Marco’s chapel and family compensated for his unjust execution.”

    A long pause, the room so silent Merciless Doll held her breath.

    When Marcello spoke again, his voice adopted his favorite tone, smooth persuasiveness. “The time for diplomacy has passed. It is time to take decisive action. Men like you and I, councilor, cannot hesitate. We have a responsibility to see justice done. The Radan Church and the Order of Divines stand on the forefront of the same battle, to protect souls. Whoever strikes one church with a blow, hits both. We cannot allow someone to cause discord and cast suspicion upon Rada’s faithful servants.”

    “Your Eminence, I understand your anger over this betrayal, but justice is what I aim to get. Surely, you know that by attacking back we only play into the hands of those who want to divide loyalties. I’m a lawman, not an assassin.”

    The old cleric didn’t immediately react. Merciless Doll could imagine his guts roiling at the young lawyer’s audacity. Not many had the resolve to refuse the old man’s requests.

    “I’m going to write a formal appeal. Your signature would lend credence.” He turned toward the window and Merciless Doll ducked out of sight.

    “You’ll live to regret this decision,” Lazaro Marcello said. “These men don’t fear pens and paper.”

    “They will by the time I’ve brought the full force of the law down upon them. I’ll take my chances, with or without your help.”

    Merciless Doll grinned. Witnessing her former employer put in his place seemed well worth the wait and sore muscles from the climb, almost appeasing her bloodlust. Not quite.

    The knife, warm in her hand, reminded her it was time to act. An eye for an eye; a life for a life. It was only fair the old man paid for his betrayal.

    She glanced down at the dirt under her nails. Grave dirt. Instinctively, her right hand clenched, reacting to the shrinking feeling in her stomach and welling tears. When the blade bit into her fingers, she let up, wiped her eyes with an angry swipe of her sleeve and shrugged her shoulders a couple times, rapidly, to loosen them. Daylight was fading.

    When she peered back, the room was empty. Damn. She sheathed the knife and reached for the adjacent window. It was a quick climb down a stone pillar, leather trousers shielding her skin from the abrasive surface. She cursed her momentary appropriation of patience, knowing it might have cost her dearly. Keeping track of a moving target inside the cathedral could be a daunting task.

    One handhold at a time, she made her way across the east face. The stairs down to the private dining room lay along the north wall, where a graceful landing, furbished in carved mahogany and blue velvet, overlooked the fountain in the courtyard and the holy flame, burning eternal. If she hurried, she might meet Lazaro on the landing. The windows were glazed, but leather would protect her from most of the cuts.

    cont...
     
  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    cont...

    Merciless Doll stopped in her tracks, one arm on the east face and the other on the north. A dozen men in teal capes stood below. Her feet tried to find a suitable crack between the marble blocks. It was no use. She slid.

    Desperation driving instincts rusty with age, she reached up, grabbing hold of a statue set right into the wall alcove, one of seven on the front side of the cathedral. With a stony, divine hand to hold, Merciless Doll pulled herself up. She was still thirty or forty feet from the window on the landing. She’d taken too long. Lazaro Marcello was surely already downstairs.

    She crouched in the shadow of the alcove, letting go of the stone hand. The elder, the last divine, stared back at her, his other hand holding up the scales of balance. Blank eyes searched her face—a haunting reminder of the gods’ presence.

    She pounded her fist against the wall, leaning her weight into the cold stone. A fortnight of planning, squandered. Marcello was leaving in the morning. She’d missed her chance.

    Bird droppings striped the side of the elder’s face, adding to his gravity. It was the scales, hovering above her face though, that gave Merciless Doll pause—the symbol of balance, acquired wisdom, and law.

    “You can’t be serious,” she said.

    Below, the young lawyer strode down the flagstone path, heading for the street. The guards ignored him but Merciless Doll watched. Confident stride and elevated chin? He might be young but he knew what he wanted. That, and he stood up to Lazaro. The last man she’d seen refuse to kill in His Eminence’s name was still being hunted for his disloyalty.

    She fished in her pocket for a coin but came up empty-handed. “Alright, I’m listening. If you’re right, I’ll pay you back next time I walk past the Temple of Divines.”

    A quick climb back around to the shadowed east side and Merciless Doll soon found ground under her feet again. She ran at full speed toward the fence and pulled herself over, intent on catching up to her mark.

    It took three blocks to close the distance without drawing attention. Falling in beside the young man in the fancy doublet, she pulled a silk scarf from her pocket and wrapped it over her sweaty brow, covering hair cropped short for mourning. “Cross the street and head into that alley.”

    He didn’t acknowledge her at first, but after she repeated her command, he chanced a look in her direction. Serious, dark eyes looked her over. “Who are you?”

    “Your only friend right now.”
     
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    What I did:

    First, I'd like to put up the article I wrote on editing. Here it is: Target Editing - A Time-Saving Strategy for Writers

    When looking at a scene, it's best to take it back to the goals... all the way back to the beginning. Even, or especially for opening scenes. Is your goal to show the MC's daily life? Is it to show the mystical elven wood? Is it to get the reader frightened for a village because an army is marching on them?

    Whatever the goals of the scene, you then have to ask how you can best accomplish it. The target editing strategy is a wide scope, but it's absolutely the right way for me to go when I look at how best to edit my work. As you can see.. my first drafts leave a lot to be desired.
     
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    My revised opening critique:



    Okay, so now we see her on the window ledge first... better. Also, we know she's at a cathedral and the name of the guy. Much better. Also, the way you call him a target first and then reveal the knife is a much better way to introduce those elements.


    Not the easiest sentence to digest, but at least it's clear. We now know who the guards are and what they're doing.

    Ah... revenge. For what? At least now we know she's trying to kill Marcello for a reason. THat clarifies why... but not fully. Is there a reason for the mystery?

    Just the internal thought and the way her grip is described is already so much better than the previous version. Now I can see what she's doing and get to know her. She even explains her relationship with the old man, where in the first one, it was completely absent.

    I like the description of Marcello much better. If you're setting him up as an antagonist, giving him personailty traits is much better than leaving him faceless.

    A description of the new character helps a lot. Even if she doesn't know him, she's observed enough to give him an identity. Where before he was a nameless, faceless guy, here he's got an identity.

    SO now we even know more about the woman, that she's older and not an assassin, but driven by revenge to kill.Also... because I know more about the other characters, the words carry more impact.

    I know I complained about stilted dialogue earlier, but just the extra detail about the people makes this flow better, but there is an improvement on the dialogue as well.

    Better with more immediacy. Before, there weren't any constraints within which she had to work.

    cont...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    cont...

    I like her observations. It tells me more about her character and the structure for storytelling is much better.

    Structure and pacing both crate feelings in readers. I think this version has much more impact than the earlier one. MOstly because the details are added without affecting the pacing in a negative way. I always recommend people add details, btu short ones. A sentence, not a paragraph.

    Still an extreme suggestion, but in this context, it flows better. Not as jarring.

    It's easier to understand their connection this time.

    I think keeping elements from the first draft is the right choice, but changing them has made a big difference.

    Okay, so the parting of the two men is much better and the woman's impression lends more weight this time.

    Now we understand her motivation.


    I think adding the right type of description had added to the story as a whole.

    Knowing who the guards are, this is much more dramatic. Also, this change is better for another reason. In the first draft, she went to the back and up and over the wall. While I enjoy a "tell" once in a while for brevity, this is more interesting.

    A time frame is always a good idea. Not when it feels contrived, but when it creates immediacy.

    I liked this description and though I don't immediately understand her reaction, I feel like I can picture it.

    So she has a reason to follow him. Good.

    Not a lot of change at the end but I think the beginning was much stronger. Always use what tools you have to bring a reader right into the situation and character as soon as possible. This version works much better for that purpose and I believe it also conveys more about the characters' motivations and the setting.
     
  8. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Okay, I know this was a lot of reading, but I wanted to put something out there to illustrate the points we so often mention. Problem with talk is, is that sometimes people understand things very differently. Other times, (like with me a couple years ago) they simply haven't got the experience to understand exactly what is being said.

    I don't want the new writers on this forum to feel alienated by the language we oldsters use when we give feedback, so I wanted to make a clear example of the process I use for writing, reading, critting, giving feedback, editing, and critting revisions.

    When I read a revised work... I know what advice I've given first time. For example, if I got this revision back and noticed that the writer still hadn't named the antagonist, and rather than calling him Lazaro Marcello, they still referred to him as "the old man"... well I'd have just gotten over it. I never ever want to influence an artist to change something they're content with. So, I wouldn't have mentioned it a second time unless for some reason it absolutely ruined my experience. When I run into a situation like that, I like to mention it again and tell the writer exactly what effect it's having on me and give them a valid reason to reconsider their choice.

    Also, even if you HATE the crit someone gave you... it's always nice to thank them and find something positive about it. For example, I could have gotten all bent out of shape over the crit, saying I knew what I was doing and I preferred to leave the identities of the characters a mystery. Since so much of the crit revolved around that single element... that I DIDN'T want to change, I'd have thanked the critter for the suggestions and totally ignored them. Then, when I critted it again (I'm getting confused because I'm both the writer and critter in this example... so this is me as the critter again), I'd have again reiterated my need for at least SOME sort of clue who the characters were. It's then up to the writer to either listen or ignore... sometimes to their own detriment. But you cannot expect your crit will be wholly agreed with... you can only do your very best job to give honest feedback and for any negative comment, try to give a reason and a suggestion if it calls for it.

    Another thing I like to do in critiques, is point out missed opportunities. MAybe that's the creative person in me, but if a writer gives me a story to crit and I see a place they could really have created more tension... Even if the draft is good and doesn't necessarily warrant a negative comment, I'll put in a note like: "it might be a little more tense if he does..." OR "If she didn't know this thing, would it be more..."

    I think the responsibility for critting and accepting feedback lies with both partners and I always recommend finding a crit partner at your level. A peer. The last thing a new writer needs is to be torn a new one by a really experienced critter and writer, and the last thing someone wants to do when they're submitting their fully edited novel, is slog through a crit that eats hours and days.

    This process is about respect, as much as it's about helping. If you learned anything or just appreciated my workshop in any way, please thank it. I should have been editing today, but I wanted to reach my hand out to all the newer folks we have around here and hopefully shed a little light on the things it took me two years to learn.

    Remember, writers, you aren't alone. Every writer has been there, learned the things that make for better writing, and persevered. You can do it! If my process helps you at all, I'm glad I could be of assistance. You'll develop your own methods over time, but this might be a good place to start. And if you have anything to add, please do. I am still learning, too.
    :) Best wishes!
     
  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I just wanted to boost this post for people who are still interested in a critiquing and editing process.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I love it when Caged Maiden talks to herself in front of others. :)

    On a serious note (F#), it's great to see something like this. Until one has been through a complete editing process, there's just no way to appreciate how exhausting and exhaustive it is. The Maiden's posts give a flavor of that.

    Also, we should all get to the point where we can edit our own work as thoroughly. I've heard it said, somewhere, that an agent doesn't care if you're a good writer as much as s/he cares if you're a good editor.
     
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    About agents, I agree. I think you have to do a few things in submission, and since this workshop is about putting you best foot forward, I'll expound on those thoughts.

    First thing you need is a good manuscript. A manuscript that is good will have plenty of tension, a solid plot, various mini-plots revolving around characters, and a resolution that is satisfying (note, I didn't say happy).

    Beginning with characters, it's essential we choose a POV that fits the story. If the story revolves around a single character, FPOV is often a good choice. I tend to slip in a little bit of second, preferring to occasionally talk to the reader, but that's just my preference. First can be daunting though. It's a full-on frolic through one mind alone. You are your own filter and never get to turn that off. If you find it too difficult to maintain that level of commitment, a nice deep third is a great option as well. When we talk about deep third, what we mean is cutting out sentences like:

    Jamie thought she heard a noise and pressed her ear against the door to listen to the hallway beyond. Creaks sounded from the old house and her pulse throbbed in her temples, but there was no sound of an intruder.

    And instead do it more like: A sound in the hallway? Ear pressed to the door, Jaime listened. Her pulse throbbed in her temple and the old house creaked and groaned like an old man rising from an armchair. Nothing indicated an intruder.

    In deep third, you get the best of both worlds. You get to enter personal thoughts in an intimate way, like in first, but retain the distance to make general observations as in third.


    Tension. wow, what a concept. I mean, it's amazing how much tension you can create with little effort. But in sloppy manuscripts, it's one of the things often most missed. Tension comes from many places. Maybe the character has to be quiet and he's caught in an autumn forest, stepping on crunching leaves or in an attic, navigating creaky floorboards. That's one type of tension, I would like to term "situational tension" where the character has an immediate goal and something is causing her way to be difficult.

    Another kind of tension comes directly from characters who do not agree, do not like each other, or at odds for one reason or another. Maybe rivals, maybe brothers, maybe lovers, maybe reluctant traveling companions. This type of tension may last a scene or the whole story. Maybe it's never resolved, even. To put it succinctly, if your characters are all good friends, traveling on a quest for weeks, and getting along swimmingly, it's time to take a closer look at human nature. IN one story, I simply made it rain. nothing brings out our raw emotions like being made uncomfortable for a few days and sharing cramped quarters (or in my case, soggy tent space) with the same people for a few consecutive nights. All those little things we used to love about our companions then seem to grate on us like nails on a chalk board and we're ready to wring their necks at the drop of a hat (or more likely the drop of a heavy boot into a mud puddle that soaks the leg of our trousers and adds to our discomfort). In my scene, I had two soft priestess sisters keeping their cool through the weather, but two young soldiers in some sort of bragging competition to keep them company. The older sister's mood is disintegrating, so the younger sister basically jumps to her feet and blows up, demanding the two young men just drop their trousers and compare, to the rest of them could be done hearing about their every conquest, contest, and victory.

    Character-driven tension is by far my favorite. Other ways to create tension is to have a deadline, or some sort of time frame that seems impossible to meet. "If we don't get there in three days, we'll miss our boat." Or, "If we don't stop him before he reaches..." Or, "There isn't time to spare because tomorrow night..." Even if there is no legitimate deadline for the journey or event, a character can MAKE that their is one, because it's his belief that they need to hurry. Self-imposed tension is something we do all the time. Even when no one is telling us what they expect, we all have an idea of others' expectations. That;s a great point around which to create tension.

    A conclusion has to be satisfying. This is a hard one for me, because I often build things up in one way and blow it all to shit in the end. Like, literally. I literally stray from my concept and instead try to bring out something too different in the conclusion...or something so weak it just sucks. Maybe I just suck at endings. Maybe I'm afraid to end something and just throw in the towel. Sometimes I get confused by what I think a reader wants to see. I just asked a question about that for my WiP. The whole story, my characters are fighting to have the antag arrested. The goal is not to kill him (though he's a lousy bastard) because if they kill him, someone else will just take his place. They aim to have the laws changed, limiting the amount of corruption possible of their leaders. SO I asked the scribes whether they would feel his arrest is fitting or whether they'd want to see crap go BOOM in the end and have him die. The responses were largely supportive of the more fitting ending, that the MC's get their goal accomplished, though not cleanly, and the antag is arrested. Though it's a bittersweet ending, they met their goals and got what they wanted, the antag in prison and the laws changed. I was really glad to hear it because I was SUPER concerned that might not be satisfying, if the reader was maybe rooting for a messy death instead.

    Remember when planning your conclusion, to bring the story to the place it makes the most sense. Don't go on for too long and don't cut it short and slap something on the end that sucks. I've thrown books before that had that kind of ending and it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I feel the writer gave up too easily and didn't follow through with conviction.

    Plot is one of those things that's hard to judge. A lot of people follow a three act sort of system. I don't. I write stories with a lot of ups and downs and sometimes they follow clear lines and sometimes, the plot lines become blurry. I would probably agree if I looked at my pile of manuscripts that they all have an opening, a climax and a resolution, but sometimes the ratio of those are a little distorted from the "proven" method.

    I think as long as you tie up most of the loose ends (because you may want to leave room for another book) and bring about a satisfying conclusion, whether that be happy, tragic, or bittersweet, I think plot boils down to strength. I'm terribly guilty of not having strong antagonists. Yeah, sue me. I'm working on it.

    Antagonists need not be evil lords. Many of my mistakes are making the MC his own antagonist. That's fine to do, but you need a clear goal for the MCs and something or someone standing in their way. If that's absent, it's sort of like watching a Roomba. Yeah, it's moving, but it isn't really going anywhere. I guess that's fun for a little while, but it gets old too quickly to stretch out for 100k words.

    Okay, so that's the manuscript. Now how does an agent want to see it? CLEAN!!!!!

    They want to see that you have employed advanced writing styles. They want concise dialogues, not meandering monologues. They want crisp, interesting details about world and background, not every detail expounded upon, words so thick they feel like they're drowning in them. There are loads more, but really, employing as much clean writing as possible is the way to set yourself apart from the pile of crap they have to read every day. My first drafts are that crap. I wish it weren't true, but it is. That's why we have to become good at editing. We have to be honest with ourselves about the current state of the manuscript and where we want it to be. Unfortunately, the only way to get it there is to work really hard. Or be some sort of natural writing genius. That didn't pan out for me. So I had to word hard. Really hard. And I tortured a couple people along the way. But now they are my heroes, without whom I couldn't be turning out edited work as I am. i had to learn from their crits what doesn't work and had to change my brain through conditioning to be as highly critical with my own work as I'm able to be with work I read. It takes time, but conditioning is a powerful thing.

    So now that the manuscript's awesome, how do you grab an agent's attention?

    to be Continued...
     
  12. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Most agents want a Query Letter. IN case you're not sure how to write one, here's a helpful article I wrote about it and even with my limited experience, I get partial requests for these style of letter. How to Write a Query Letter

    A query is your first chance to make a good impression. Keep it brief, keep it interesting, and for the love of god, make certain it doesn't have typos. Most agents want a page or less. I think four paragraphs is about perfect.

    Some agents also ask for a synopsis. Here's the companion article on that: How to Write a Synopsis

    The thing with a synopsis is that an agent will ask for what she wants. And those "wants" vary a lot! SOme agents want a synopsis that gives every secret away and details the whole book. Some want something more liek a glorified book blurb, but a whole page long. You might have to write three or four, to ensure you are sending out the appropriate thing to each agent. Nothing gets your manuscript chucked in the reject pile quicker than handing them a sloppy query and synopsis, formatted other than how they asked. They never even get to reading your awesome opening chapter, because they are looking for a reason to eliminate the "not suitable' manuscripts and formatting immediately makes the manuscript fall into that category.

    Okay, so your sending them an awesome query letter, beginning with a "when" statement and a synopsis exactly like what they asked for, right? man, now it's time to blow their socks off!

    Some ask for a few pages, some ask for a couple chapters. What can they possibly tell in five pages? That seems an obscenely short bit of book. They won't even get to the antagonist, marching on the town with an undead horde...

    Well, that's the point. They don't care what your story is about. That's why they have the synopsis and query. Your query tells them how exciting your project is. The synopsis shows how clever you are and how nicely your plot flows. Your first five pages shows the agent that you CAN ACTUALLY WRITE.

    You have to choose there and then what to show them. I'm no expert, but I can tell in the first page where I believe a writer is on their journey. Please don't hate me. I'm not really putting anyone down, but it's just that easy to tell by looking at a single opening scene whether it's a professional piece or whether it's going to be chock full of rookie mistakes.

    Now, by saying that, I'll detail some of the things I categorize as rookie mistakes:
    Confusing POV. There's nothing worse than being greeted by a novel, trying to get to know her, and realizing she's schizophrenic, right off the bat. Nuff said. Omniscient POV isn't my favorite thing to read, but I think it works best with a narrator that is consistent. If you're jumping thirds though... oh lordy, it shows.

    I also most notably see "tells" all over the place. there are simple ways to rethink sentence structure and details to really show the agent you're on the right track. Maybe I'll expound on that in the future in this workshop. For now, I'll just mention them existing.

    The point is... read those pages you send SUPER carefully. Make sure they've passed a dozen beta readers. Look them over, starting with your goal in mind, and make sure everything in them supports the goal. If you want to show that the zombie apocalypse has begun, do you begin with a zombie army heading for town? Show a lady out on a date when suddenly, the moviegoers begin screaming and a severed arm crawls up her leg? Whatever your method, make sure your scene is strong and you know its goals. That's the best way to ensure you're aiming true.


    Okay, so that's all I got on impressing an agent. As one who has never gotten past the gatekeepers, I'm not really a good source of advice on the matter. Two partial requests and no accepted manuscript isn't exactly a great track record except for my query letters.
     
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