do and don't · how to break the rules well · writing problems

Opening scenes: murder

Starting with a murder is common in the thriller/mystery/suspense genres. The kill kicks off the plot. The scene might lead the reader astray with red herrings. It might agonize us because we know things the detectives don’t. Just because it works doesn’t mean you should start with the murder. The murder opening isn’t just a… Continue reading Opening scenes: murder

query problems · writing problems

Dialogue, narrative, and exposition

One writer wrote in their query that their novel was 75% dialogue. While that’s not info we need, in this case it helped me decide. Reject. The author, a screenwriter, said the story’s heavy dialogue would adapt well for film.┬áSure enough, the sample pages had two sentences setting the scene followed by lines of dialogue.… Continue reading Dialogue, narrative, and exposition

how to break the rules well · writing problems

A little adverb goes longly

I’m not as against adverbs as Stephen King acolytes are. Adverbs are only adjectives with different grammatical placement. Like all descriptive words, there’s a time and a place. With every adverb, try the sentence without it and see if the sentence’s meaning survives. Every book has some adverbs, but good books have choice ones. (Good… Continue reading A little adverb goes longly

how to get a request for pages · writing problems

Your first page: sensory details

The first page needs some description in order to ground me in the world and in the protagonist’s experience. Many rejected pages I see have either too much or not enough. Go for immediate, sense-based details and don’t wander away from what’s happening. Your first page must be active, but don’t simply say what happens.… Continue reading Your first page: sensory details

do and don't · writing problems

Characters talking to themselves

In writing, varying the lengths of paragraphs is important. Dialogue is one way to alter the pace. I frequently see sample pages that replace dialogue with verbal asides, thinking this is an acceptable substitute. The author feels the need to let us in on the character’s thoughts but doesn’t want to say them outright. Either… Continue reading Characters talking to themselves

how to break the rules well · writing problems

Sacrificing the rules for voice

You can break writing rules in order to add voice. For example, over-description can furnish you with a narcissistic tone: Constance Fullerton readjusted her Maison Michel fedora above her statuesque profile and put her phone on the table, ignoring the words floating up from it. Referencing a brand and her good looks (both unimportant to… Continue reading Sacrificing the rules for voice

how to get a request for pages · writing problems

First pages that get requests

In order to get a request, your manuscript’s first page must snag the agent immediately. One big thing that divides requested manuscripts from rejected ones is: Don’t start with thoughts: start with activity. Manuscripts lose the reader’s attention when they start in characters’ heads. Frustration, anger, and apathy are weak beginnings. The protagonist must be… Continue reading First pages that get requests