Posts Tagged ‘poorly constructed sentences’

What Should I Do Before I Hire an Editor to Review My Manuscript?

The question is answered by Teresa LeYung Ryan–Book Doctor/Manuscript Consultant, Career Coach, Author

 

Nina Amir, creator of Write Nonfiction in November http://writenonfictioninnovember.com/ had invited me to be her guest-blogger in 2008, to help answer that question.  My advice for narrative non-fiction writers is the same for fiction writers.

“How to Look at Your Manuscript with an Editor’s Lens”


Since writing a story with the intent to engage the reader is so much like meeting a stranger and wanting him/her to be interested in you, I will focus on how to make the first quarter of your story a compelling read.

I love working with diligent writers who want to transform their manuscripts into page-turners. However, there are things you can do before you give your work to an editor. Let me show you how you can help yourself.

As an editor, the four biggest mistakes I encounter are manuscripts that are weak in these elements:

  • Planting hook(s) or story-question(s);
  • Grounding the reader with the three Ws (Who?  When?  Where?);
  • Showing (not telling) what the protagonist wants;
  • Paying attention to language and rules

Let’s learn from the pros.

Planting Hook or Story-Question:

In The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston hooks us with the first line: “You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you…”   Then, Ms. Kingston transitions into her story with:  “Whenever she had to warn us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one . . .”

Grounding the Reader with the Three Ws:

In Woven of Water, while the story timeline spans from 1957 to 2005, Californian author Luisa Adams brilliantly shows us who she was as a girl (not with a year-by-year narrative, but with a single exquisite chapter).  Because she grounded us with “who, when, where,” we eagerly follow as she takes us into her enchanted world of a “cottage in the forest.”  Another device to ground the reader is the employment of sensory details (not long descriptions).  Sensory details put the reader in the scene/story world.  Re-read one of your favorite author’s books. Study from the masters.

Showing What the Protagonist Wants:

In The Other Mother, young Carol Schaefer wants to ask questions:  “Was there any way to keep my baby?  Was there anyone who would help me find a way to do that?”

Paying Attention to Language and Rules:

Read the first five pages of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and you will see how this wordsmith plays with language and rules. (You can “bend” the rules to create flow, but you must not ignore them.)

Sentences Deserve Your Attention:

Nina Amir’s post on her blog  http://writenonfictioninnovember.wordpress.com/2007/11/ is a must-read.

Remember Groucho Marx’s line “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas…”? That sentence got a lot of laughs.  But, what if you didn’t want to be funny (ambiguous in this case)?

How would you rewrite these poorly constructed sentences?

  • He likes to fish near the Farallon Islands and they jump when they’re hungry at dawn or dusk.
  • She insists on knowing when I come home and leave, not to be nosy, but for safety reasons.
  • Being cautious as not to step on the dog’s tail, the children tip-toed away from him while sleeping.
  • My husband still in bed snoring, I have always enjoyed rising before dawn and I eat my toast and drink my green tea on the terrace.

To improve your sentence structure and other skills, I recommend these books:

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
  • Woe is I: Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English by Patricia T. O’Conner

More Advice:

  • In all four stories (The Woman Warrior, Woven of Water, The Other Mother, Angela’s Ashes), the authors present memorable experiences by employing authentic details, unusual story-worlds though real, and poetic language. You want to do the same for your story.
  • Also, these stories have another vital component-all four plotlines have what Martha Alderson, author of Blockbuster Plots, Pure and Simple, calls “Cause and Effect” linked scenes.  Another must-read blog:  http://plotwhisperer.blogspot.com/search?q=first+quarter
  • When you’re writing non-fiction and do not have the luxury of rearranging the sequence of events to create a page-turning plotline, you can engage the reader by using concise expositions to leap over blocks of time in order to focus on the core themes and fast-forward the story. A helpful website: http://www.memoriesandmemoirs.com
  • You the author must show the reader what the protagonist wants, even if the protagonist doesn’t know at first.
  • We don’t have to “like” a protagonist, but, we do need to connect with him/her on an emotional level.

In the fiercely competitive arena of the publishing world, how does one stand out in a crowd?  Building relationships is one key to success in this business. Another key is to know how to translate the themes from your life to your writing and articulate those themes as community concerns.  I want to see all hardworking writers realize their dreams. My best wishes to you!

Do you know a writer who wants to go to a writers’ conference but can’t afford it? Encourage her/him to ask family and friends to chip in (what better Christmas gift or birthday gift!).

For non-fiction authors: Writing for Change Conference http://www.sfwritingforchange.org/

For both fiction and non-fiction authors:  San Francisco Writers Conference http://sfwriters.org

Sincerely,

Teresa LeYung Ryan

Book Doctor/Manuscript Consultant, Career Coach, Author, Publisher

Coach Teresa edits manuscripts for authors who want to attract agents  & publishers  OR  want to be their own publishers. She specializes in contemporary novels, thrillers, children’s & YA novels, memoirs, short stories, and anthologies. She likes spunky protagonists.

Love Made of Heart is:
• recommended by the California School Library Association and the California Reading Association

• read by students at Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley, CCSF, and many other colleges and high schools.

• used in Advanced Composition English-as-a-Second-Language classes
• archived at the San Francisco History Center

GraceArt Publishing is the publisher of Build My Name, Beat the Game: 22 Days to Identify & Develop My Writer’s Platform to Attract Agents, Acquisition Editors, Publishers, Readers, and Media Attention.

Teresa says: “Reach out, not stress out, when building your writer’s name/platform.”  

To comment on any of my columns (blog posts), just click on the blue title bar of the post, fill in the boxes and press “submit.”  Please click here for my blog http://lovemadeofheart.com/blog/

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