Updated: Jun 20, 2020
When I click onto the first page of my client's manuscript (e.g., book, speech, article) I initially go in with the mentality of reading as a reader, not as an editor.
As a reader, I want to be captivated, glued to the pages of your book so much so that I don't want to stop reading it, but don't want to finish it either because it's that good. As an editor, I observe for technicalities: what is your style of writing, is it consistent throughout the book, how is the structure of your book, are there significant spelling and grammatical errors? Regardless of which hat I'm wearing there are 3 must-haves, or what I call the 3 P’s for any manuscript.
Does your manuscript already contain the 3 P's?
Page. Captivate the reader on the first page. Writers often struggle with getting started because they are focused on getting the first sentence right. While the first sentence is important, don't focus predominantly on that. Think broader and make sure that your first page lures the reader. If the first sentence says, "Today was a terrible day," this isn't the most exciting sentence. But don't sweat the small stuff. If somewhere on that first page you include, "Mary's hand now lay face up, shaking on the counter as she noticed that speckles of blood now decorated her once all-white cuff," then, my George, I think you've got it! And, as you write that first page, you may have to alter your belief that you have to begin the process of writing your book by starting with the first page. Grab some post-it notes and jot down the titles of your chapters (and maybe even the sub-chapters). If you're in the mood to start writing chapter 10, start there. You may find that you gain momentum by writing what you are passionate about at the moment that you are feeling it!
Protagonist. The reader should be able to identify the protagonist in the first chapter. This way your reader becomes invested in your main character and not confused as the story progresses. Sure, there may be multiple significant characters. But the reader needs to feel connected to one primary character. As you begin to write about your protagonist, display her strengths and weaknesses. Convey her personality type, another easy way to connect the reader to the character.
Presenting tropes. Do not worry about what trope you write. They’ve all been done before: the damsel in distress, the hero that saves the world, the regular guy who gets superpowers to save the universe. Instead, focus on HOW your story will be different than stories with the same trope. In his MasterClass, the author of the novel,
David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell states, "The job of the writer is not to supply the ideas, it is to be patient enough to find the ideas." He flips his story to focus on Goliath's blindness instead of David's greatness. Now that makes for an interesting story!
If you've already written your manuscript, glance through it again and make sure you have the 3 P's. But don't just take my word for it. Explore the plethora of books out there, and, if you haven't already started writing, leverage the research and may the force be with you. The "how to write fiction" books listed below are under $15.
Now Write!: Fiction Writing Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers. This book received 5 stars out of 23 customer reviews. The high rating is due to the simple and quick writing exercises that get juices flowing. It contains short biographies and tips from published authors, writers and teachers. Presenters at workshops and instructors found this book useful given the short exercises tailored to your sub-genre (horror, sci-fi, fantasy) within the fiction genre.
Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Let Them Go. With 4.5 stars out of 198 ratings, this book is something to peek at. Many customers enjoyed this book because it is in a story format. The writer jumps right in with a thrilling paragraph to hook the reader at the outset. This book is informative because it explains why agents, editors, and publishers will be quickly drawn in if you catch them at the beginning of your story. Some writers were frustrated because they became overly focused on writing the hook. As I indicated at the beginning of this blog, do not be overly distracted about this in the first couple of sentences. You need to grab the reader's attention. But sometimes you may need to walk away in return in order to get that on paper. This book is more for those seeking traditional publishers compared to self-publishing.
The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface. Another book with 4.5 stars, this one has 271 ratings. You're probably aware that the cover of your book is everything. It can truly engage your readers if they are attracted to your cover or cause them to dismiss it like the last day of school. Admittedly, for this book, I was not impressed with the cover at all. But after flipping through the first couple of pages I realized that there was more to the cover than meets the eye. Do you see it? In terms of the content, the author presents the argument of showing versus telling in writing a fiction novel. He argues that it's not so important to focus on showing versus telling, but to focus on, “How can I get readers to go on emotional journeys of their own?”
Write Away: One Novelist's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life. Starting her first two chapters off strong, best-selling author Elizabeth George begins with “Story is Character” and “Setting is Story”. Given that she’s a well-known author, readers both experienced and novice, value her perspective. Customers indicate that she provides useful tips to improve writing. This book received 4.5 out of 5 stars. Some thought that her book was repetitive. But most thought she tackled topics that most mystery writers would be concerned with: plot, character, point of view, etc. She provides passages from various novels and dissects them so that the reader/writer can understand how to apply the skill.
How to Write Best-Selling Fiction. Available only as an Audible Audiobook, this book received 5 stars, but only out of 3 ratings. Still, I thought it was worth posting because it’s available for just 1 Audiobook credit and readers enjoyed hearing the author narrate the book. Surprisingly, this book is 12 hours long, but based on the audio sample, you will enjoy James Scott Bell’s (best-selling author) animated and engaging voice. Disclaimer: Yes, this book is listed as $24.47, but because you can download for 1 Audiobook credit, I thought it was worth mentioning. I think this is a good purchase, especially if you’re short on time and rather listen during daily activities. Mr. Bell incorporates his experiences with writing fundamentals and is pretty entertaining.
Do any of these books appeal to you? Sometimes we need a kick to jumpstart our interest in writing, and for you fiction authors, this may be the kick you need.
Do you want to learn how to catch your writing errors and save money with an editor? This link connects you to an editing course and Udemy, a source of over 150,000 other courses. What will you learn? https://www.udemy.com/course/proofreading-a-must-for-newbie-writers/?referralCode=1B16D0F74C1927426A8E
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