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of three, count 'em, three, that pertain to the same manuscript, I'm starting to get an idea of some of the pitfalls we unpublished writers can fall into.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!
Am Moving My Blog
5 years ago