Posts Tagged ‘the more you read’

To comment on any of my columns (blog posts) or to contact me, just click on the blue title bar of the post, fill in the boxes and press “submit.”


What to do before hiring an editor for your manuscript?


My advice for narrative non-fiction writers is the same for fiction writers.

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

by Teresa LeYung Ryan–Developmental Editor/Manuscript Consultant/Writing Career Coach

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 us, 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.

Does your manuscript pass these tests?

  • Planting hook(s) or story-question(s);
  • Grounding the reader with the three Ws and the big C (Who?  When?  Where? Circumstances);
  • 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 and the big C:

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” and the “circumstances” as to why she had left her love affair with water, 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?”

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elisabeth Gilbert says: I wish Giovanni would kiss me.

In Love Made of Heart, my protagonist Ruby Lin prays: Please don’t end up like Grandmother (while witnessing police officers escorting her own mother out of her apartment).

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.)

In Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison’s protagonist Bone is a girl.  Bone’s voice is convincing in dialogue and in internal monologue. Brilliant use of dialect.

Sentences Deserve Your Attention:

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 sentences?  See the misplaced modifiers?

  • He likes to fish near the Farallon Islands, they jump when they’re hungry at dawn or dusk. (the islands jump?)
  • She insists on knowing when I come home and leave, not to be nosy, but for safety reasons. (who is not nosy?)
  • Being cautious as not to step on the dog’s tail, the children tip-toed away from him while sleeping. (who’s sleeping?)

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 the stories I referenced above, 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 the plotlines have what Martha Alderson, author of Blockbuster Plots Pure and Simple, calls “Cause and Effect” linked scenes.  Another must-read blog:
  • When you’re writing non-fiction and you 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 to the next scene.  A helpful website for memoir writers:
  • 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. Perhaps what he/she wants is also what we want.
  • Story-telling is a skill learned, practiced, and mastered. May you practice with joy.

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!

To read other posts in my blog (about writing contests, publishing opportunities, more tips on platform-building), click on [ Home ] and scroll down  OR key in words in the search box to find specific posts. Example: if you key in the words: poetry anthology 2011 into my blog’s search box and click [search], you will see my post containing info about the  Las Positas College Anthology and other contests for other genres (Thank you, Poet Laureate Deborah Grossman!) To read the entire version of a post, click on the title bar of that post.

To see my website for all my books, go to:

Reach out, not stress out!


Build-Your-Writer’s-Platform Coach Teresa

Teresa LeYung Ryan–Developmental Editor/Manuscript Consultant, Writing Career Coach, Author, Publisher

Teresa specializes in editing fiction and narrative non-fiction with themes on the human condition.

She likes spunky protagonists in thrillers, women’s novels, memoirs, and children’s literature.

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

Teresa says: “The more you read, the more your own writing will flow.”  
Please click here for my blog’s home page

My fun workbook is now available through Amazon!

BUILD YOUR WRITER’S PLATFORM & FANBASE IN 22 DAYS: Attract Agents, Editors, Publishers, Readers, and Media Attention NOW


Subscribe to my blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner