Anxious Writer

Revision is endless. Or maybe it only seems that way when you're fine-tuning your first novel, as I am. I'm sure I began submitting my sample chapters too early in the process. It's tough to know when you're "done," especially when your friends (and early readers) have raved about how moved they were.

As I read Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing Is Being Rejected, by Jessica Page Morrell, several pieces of advice  made me turn back to the cover to be sure the author wasn't one of the agents who once turned my manuscript down. (She wasn't.) Morrell, the author of several books on writing, is also a developmental editor and writing teacher.

Among the best parts of Morrell's book are the "deal killers" sections rounding out most chapters. Out of the profusion of her insightful suggestions, I chose these four super bits of advice to share with you:

1. Don't bury your story under excess, whether of subplots or characters. "Excess also stems from writers borrowing from their lives rather than concocting a story based on make-believe," writes Morrell, describing a manuscript whose protagonist attended a lot of boring meetings about corporate strategy, based on the author's work in that industry.

2. Don't answer too many questions too soon. Let your readers worry a while before explaining, allowing your story to unfold dramatically. "The trick is to delay telling backstory until the last possible moment or include only tidbits that matter and stir unease or questions in the reader," notes Morrell.

3. Don't leave your main character alone on the stage. "If too many scenes in your story feature a character alone, the story won't work.'  Especially if she's musing, recalling, or sighing a lot.

4. Don't get stuck using the same phrases repeatedly, especially in physical descriptions. I've written about this in another post you might enjoy.


And one bit of advice that feels less certain to me:

"Readers... don't like to feel illiterate," writes Morrell. You're dragging readers from the story if they have to keep consulting a dictionary, she says. "Words in manuscripts such as capacious, accretion, ... arboreal, sylvan, verdant, obdurant... and mendacious always pull me from the story. Just say no to showing off."

Some of us, of course, wouldn't have to look up those words. And I couldn't help but note that in a later section Morrell suggests keeping an alphabetized word list, adding to it words "with sparkle and oomph." Examples from her own list: slough, languor, and churr. Hmm. One reader's showing off is another's sparkling word list?

[A previous post of mine about writing and revising a novel was very popular.]

Copyright (c) 2010 by Susan K. Perry

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