Taking a Break From The Case of the Missing Cat

No, Peach is not home yet. I’m slowly losing hope and checking for her at the back door less often. Last night I cried about it. Yeah, it was pretty pitiful. So I’m not going to talk about Peach today. Instead, I’m going to talk about writing!

(Because, in case anyone has forgotten, this is a writing blog. I know you’d never know it, but… it is.)

So this morning on Twitter, Writer’s Digest posted this BRILLIANT checklist for writing a manuscript. It’s just so simple and concise, I had to post it here.

(Side note: If you’re on Twitter and not following @WritersDigest, please do so now. They really do run an immensely helpful website.)

I’m going to repost their list here, with my comments, if anyone is interested. And I would love to hear your feedback! So, without further delay, here’s editor Anica Mrose Rissi’s list of what you can do to increase your book’s chances of making it out of the slush pile and into the spotlight.

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1. Revise, revise, revise! I don’t want to read your first draft, ever. (Tip: Your novel isn’t ready to send to me until you can describe it in one sentence.) So true, right? Are we ever done revising? No. But some people (myself included) think the book is done WAY before it actually is and let people – important people – look at it when it’s still in its awkward teen phase. Let the book grow up first, friends. Have Beta readers get in there and tear it apart. It will be SO much better when they finish with it!

2. Start with conflict and tension to raise questions, arouse curiosity and (like musical dissonance) create the need for resolution. Um, YES. And it took me forever to realize that this, more than almost anything else, makes or breaks a book for me. If you start with backstory or some kind of explanation, I get bored. Fast.

3. Start with the story you’re telling, not with the backstory. Throw the reader directly into a conflict and let her get to know your characters through their actions. (Yes, this is another way of saying, “Show, don’t tell.”) Same as above – if I don’t know your characters yet, I don’t care about their backstory.

4. Give the reader something to wonder about and a sense of where the story is going—of what’s at stake. I’m totally guilty of overexplaining things and not giving my reader a chance to ask their own questions, but you HAVE to let them wonder about stuff for a while! Otherwise there’s nothing to keep them turning the pages.

5. Avoid explaining too much too soon. And, don’t be obvious. Trust your readers. Trust your characters. Trust your writing. If you find that chunks of your story need to include long explanations, go back in and write those chunks better, until the story explains itself. Oh, I am the explanation queen. Yet I hate it when other authors over-explain.

6. Make sure your story has both a plot arc and an emotional arc. Cross internal conflict with external conflict. Give your characters moral dilemmas, and force them to deal with the consequences of their choices. You know, this is so true, too. A story with only one of these conflicts? Bo-ring.

7. Read your dialogue out loud. When revising, ask yourself, “What is the point of this dialogue?” (Just as you should be asking, “What is the point of this sentence? What is the point of this scene?”) I don’t do this nearly enough, but it helps so much to read conversations out loud. That way you can see if it flows naturally or if it sounds forced. And, it really irks me when there’s a scene, conversation, etc. that ends up serving no purpose!

8. Use adjectives, adverbs and dialogue tags only sparingly. (See “trust your readers,” above.) Adverbs are hard for me to avoid. I like them. And I like adjectives, too. But I know that strong verbs are the key to a good read!

9. Make sure your details matter. Listen, this is why getting through a Tolkien novel feels like wading through knee-deep mud. Too many details or unnecessary details make people want to put your book down!

I hope that was as helpful to y’all as it was to me! What do you think? Any of your own comments to add? Do you disagree with any of her points? Why? And have you found any tricks to accomplishing these things more easily?

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11 thoughts on “Taking a Break From The Case of the Missing Cat

  1. Anne Riley says:

    Thanks everyone for the well wishes about the cat! And yes, I DO hope these tips helped you out as much as they helped me!

  2. Kristen says:

    Hm. I think there are a ton of people who would completely disagree with the part about Tolkien novels. Just sayin.

  3. Anne Riley says:

    Kristen: Oh, I know there are. Different people always feel different ways about specific authors and specific books. For me, it was a struggle to get through LOTR because of allll the details. I got a little lost in them. But some people love that much detail. It’s just different depending who you ask.

  4. Tessa Quin says:

    I’m guilty of nr. 1 >.< Which is why I'm not going to re-query the manuscript until next year after I've torn it apart and put it back together with the aid of my new and shiny crit partners.

  5. HeatherM says:

    This is an excellent list. I’ve referred to it on my blog too! I especially love #7 though I’d expand it to say read the entire novel out loud.

    I’m sorry about peaches. Do you live in the city or country?

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