Agent perspective: What’s wrong with your manuscript

googleimages2Pitching your book to no avail?

Are agents not being forthcoming with advice?

Getting ready to submit in the new year?

The definitive guide to what’s wrong with most manuscripts:

1. All internal conflict, no external conflict. Does more happen in the character’s head than in the plot? This is going to be a problem whether it’s literary or commercial fiction. Make sure enough things happen.

2. Pace. The most important thing to get an agent’s attention is to keep us turning the pages and stop us from doing other things. The moment things lag, you’ve lost us.

3. Voice. This one’s more subjective, but the way to check if your book has voice is whether we can tell the difference between whose head we’re in or who is speaking at any given time. Everything about your writing style needs personality. What makes your book special? Your voice. It’s how we separate all the books out there.

4. Dialogue. This goes with my point above. I should be able to tell who is speaking–a character, not you the author. For me, this separates the beginners from the advanced writers.

5. Length. Does your book follow word count guidelines? If not, it’s an easy pass.

6. Structure. Getting experimental? Are chapters vastly different lengths? Jumping drastically from POV? If we can’t follow your structure, you’ve lost us.

7. Characters. Some people feel differently about the ‘likeability’ aspect of characters. Personally, I enjoy ‘liking’ characters, but more importantly: Do they grow? Do they evolve? Do we care about their stakes and what happens to them? If not, I’m not on board.

This comes from reading many, many slush pile manuscripts that I often like but don’t love.

Use this as a checklist.

Good luck!

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5 Ways To Write Real-Speak Dialogue

book quotesDialogue is a strange part of writing fiction. On one hand, it’s supposed to sound like real people, but on the other hand it’s supposed to advance plot. How is it supposed to do so many things?

5 WAYS TO WRITE REAL-SPEAK DIALOGUE THAT IS MULTI-FUNCTIONAL:

1. Use dialogue to show the relationships between characters.

Are they close? Make sure they share information that they’d tell no one else, or they gossip about other people. Don’t forget to have them use affectionate nicknames that show a history.

2. Avoid routine exchanges in real life conversation in exchange for the most interesting thing.

We all know the boring conversations we have throughout the day. Writing fiction means you get to avoid those mundane conversations and replace them with the most interesting things. Whenever you have your characters talk about their day stop yourself to make sure that there’s a larger point being made.

3. Go no longer than 3 sentences without an interjection. 

There’s nothing that sounds like dialogue more than 200 words of monologue. The reader can sense that a mile away. Cue the moment the writer wants to say something important: a long-winded monologue. Dialogue should be no longer than 3 sentences without something or someone cutting them off.

4. Make sure your character sounds like themselves and not you.

First time writers have a habit of making all the characters sound like themselves. Avoid this by making sure they sound like who you created, not the voice in your head.

5. Add in run on sentences and clipped words.

Dialogue ends up being a bit more formal than we speak in real life. However, don’t forget to add run on sentences and clip words so the reader feels like these are real people having real conversations.

Q: What do you think is the hardest part of writing dialogue? (I know there’s many!)

Let Dialogue Speak For Itself

Dialogue, in its most natural state, has the ability to move the plot and show character traits, as well as its most basic function: communication. When I read submissions this often marks the difference between a writer that ‘gets it’ and a writer that has a long way to go.

Dialogue must speak for itself. If you have to set up the dialogue before or explain it after you haven’t written good enough dialogue: Continue reading Let Dialogue Speak For Itself