Monday, November 9, 2009


I've mentioned in past posts that I consider revision letters to be little chunks of gold. And being the proud owner of three, count 'em, three, that pertain to the same manuscript, I'm starting to get an idea of some of the pitfalls we unpublished writers can fall into.

So, I thought I would talk about some of the main points made in my letters, to give you an idea of what the editors are looking for, using my folly as an example. Hey, someone oughtta learn from my mistakes, right?

A lot of this relates specifically to Harlequin Presents/Modern, but also could be translated to any publisher of any genre, because good writing, good story construction, is pretty universal.

Pace: After my second round of revisions I had added in some new scenes, which was a bad idea, because while, in my mind, I was building a mood, in reality I was slowing the pace. I had added these scenes that were fine enough, but they weren't advancing the story. Especially in these shorter novels, pacing is a big deal.

Recently, with all the contests floating around, I've seen a lot of the people who judge contests saying that the biggest problem they see in entries is pacing. Too much time is spent describing the mundane and not enough time spent propelling the story forward.

I heard it described this way once: In the classics, like Dickens for example, description was much more important. The author might spend two paragraphs explaining a cobblestone street. Because maybe not everyone knew just what a cobblestone street was. Now we're inundated with images, we've seen much more, and in our movie culture we demand stories with a more movie-like pace, rather than one that spends four pages telling you about the gables of a house.

When editing, ask yourself: what is this scene doing to advance the plot? As it was put in my letter, "In this case the reader is almost waiting for the point of change, or a secondary layer of conflict."

And I didn't deliver it. What I had was some boring scenes that just sat there.

Conflict: Oh, this is the biggie. Conflict. Internal stinking conflict. In my letter it was put this way, "Readers respond to strong, believable conflicts that stem from the character’s fundamental personality, and which exist within the construct of the relationship itself."

Well, that means that (and this seems like a no duh, but it took be long enough to get it) the conflict comes from within the characters, not an outside source. External conflict is there, it's essential to most plots.

For example: The h and H have to get married to secure an inheritance, but they'll only stay married for one year.

But that's not what keeps them apart, it's not what drives them or what makes them who they are, and ultimately it's not the twelve month limit on the relationship that's going to end it, it's their own issues. And no, it can't be a crazy ex-girlfriend, I tried that. That's also external.

But what if the hero believes that no one can love him? His own mother left him, and since then, since acquiring his vast fortune, everyone in his life has just been a leech, after his wealth. So he rejects the heroine's love because he believes it to be false, based on an insecurity within him.

Probably not the best example, but I thought it up on the fly. And anyway, you get the idea. Internal conflict is not the crazy exes or evil aunts or half-heard conversations.

Character: Now, she had a lot of good to say about my characters, but she had some very valid points about some things I'd done wrong. This is from my third letter and she mentions that especially during revisions, it's easy to have characters slip out of...well...character.

With my hero especially, as I've mentioned, I had to really make him more alpha than he was in my first draft, and while I did that, there were moments where Old Marco came out and undermined New Sexy Marco. It was essential that I made sure I knew Marco so that I could read through the MS and know right away if he was acting 'off.'

As for my heroine, I was guilty, at times, of falling back on cliches. Elaine is a strong woman, educated and career oriented, yet at times she did things simply because it's what the heroines do. When Marco reached for her she gave a cry and pulled away. And it was brought up in the letter 'why would she give a cry?' Good question. Why would my very non-shrinking violet heroine turn into a swooning Southern Belle suddenly?

The editor's words were, "have faith in your characters. Don’t try and emulate what you have read before, but build believable, three-dimensional people who have honest reactions. Don’t fall back on the stereotype."

And that's great advice for every author and every MS in every genre. If the reader can't buy into the characters, they won't care about the book. We have to make people that are real, who say real things and react to situations the way real people would. Even if they are richer and prettier while doing it. :-)

And in closing, she reminded me to let my natural voice shine through, because that's what they want. Authors who can bring their own twist and flavor to the line, not retreads of what's been seen before.

Write happy, my friends!



  1. Hey, this is fabulous, Maisey. Thanks for sharing! I got told the same kind of things re the internal conflict and the characters - hard eh? Loved that about your heroine btw. Good point!

  2. Great advice Maisey - thanks! Of course it all sounds so easy - but boy it isn't! Take care. Caroline x

  3. Always happy to share!

    and yeah, all much easier said than done. What looks so clear on paper is much more difficult to translate into your MS sometimes. But having the advice certainly helps!

  4. Hi Maisey,

    Followed you from Jax's blog. It's like falling from one gold mine into another.
    Thank you so much for sharing the contents of your revision letter and your fabulous advice.
    I'm also very excited to just say hello because I rarely ever meet another writer targeting HP.Okay, gushing over.
    Good luck with your current round of revisions!


  5. Hi Sri! Thanks for stopping by!

    It IS nice to meet another person aiming for HP! Most everyone I know is more into MH. But I'm too much of a traditional girl for that. :-D

    My revisions (eek, rewrite) is off and sent. Still waiting to hear back. :-)

  6. Great post, Maisey! And LOL on the gold mine analogy, Sri.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Maisey! The pacing reminds me of some of the deleted scenes I watch from my shows on DVD, particularly Grey's Anatomy. It's fascinating to hear the producers talk about cutting scenes because it's slowing pacing or talking about a subject that's already addressed. It really makes you look hard at your writing.

    And yeah, I hear you on the character part. It's tough to let those fictional people grow and be who they're going to be.

  8. Thanks, Jane!!!

    Pam, isn't it interesting how you can really apply a lot of things to editing? And when you're in edit mode do you find yourself over-critiqeing movies? I do. We watched the new Indiana Jones when I was in the thick of edits and I was mentally deconstructing it. Not even Harrison could distract me...

  9. Another fabulous post, Maisey.

    I had to laugh at your over-critiquing movies comment. I'm terrible about watching a movie and critiquing it for plot/pace/whatever - my poor husband is about to refuse to watch any more movies with me! He got a real kick out of my comments when I finished watching Transformers with my kids (*and I quote* "I mean, come on, Amy . . . it's TRANSFORMERS!")

    He should have had me tossed in the loony-bin for that one. :)


  10. LOL, Amy! I've managed to avoid Transformers, and my husband's only critique on it pertained to Meagan Fox and certain assets she possess. :-P

    It's so easy to get in the mode though. It's good though right? If we can see it in other people's work we should be able to see it in our own eventually!

  11. Hey Maisey, thanks for sharing! It's always good to see what the editors want. Must say though, I love revisions because they challenge writers to do better. Of course, after three rounds, I'm hoping you're done with a sale on the way!


  12. Agreed totally, Maya.

    I know for a fact my MS is better now, and I needed help to get there. Revisions are a positive, not a negative.

    Of course, we'll see about that sale! Fingers definitely crossed!

  13. Very interesting post. I enjoyed it immensely.

    Suzanne :)

  14. Keep us posted more on the progress ! It is really informative.. and I hope to carry it to my nocturne bite as well !

    Whatever you have mentioned, I'm able to see in my own story, but I have just been thinking more generic - something is wrong, something is not moving forward properly, H/h are doing actions like puppets, uncoordinated !! all verbal descriptions of my problem, but your ed's advice kind of gives a major leap in understanding my problem :) Thanks a lot !

  15. That's great! So glad to be of help. Keep us posted on your progress!