But when it comes to submitted your masterpiece to agents and publishers, the freedom of ‘no rules’ is no longer. There are tips and tricks to a compelling ms, and as I am still working through this process myself, I figured I would share the hints that I have come across!
I will narrow it down to 5 key steps!
- REVISE – this is hands down the most important of any step I am about to go over. Read your work over…and over….and over. For comprehension, flow, dialogue, climax, and character development, and so much more. Spelling, grammar, punctuation….all the little things that sometimes fall to the side when we are on a roll writing each chapter. Anyone who has read my work knows that I am the WORST at revision. I am the first to admit this. I don’t usually revise the work I put on Wattpad, but you bet your pretty behind I revise my manuscripts for submission. Because with agents…you get one shot.
- Avoid too much detail – another fault of my own, is being too wordy. I give away every little detail of every scene, the idea being to create a strong picture for the reader. But, at times, this can drag out and lose interest. You DON’T want to do that. You want to keep your reader on their toes, and a little mystery. The same can be said for not having too much back story. Giving every detail of your characters lives from childhood to now isn’t necessary. Keep concise, point driven explanations, which will give the readers detail, but not boredom.
- Start with conflict, not history - You want to get right to it. Within that first chapter, your reader should be able to have a idea of what the main characters focus is. For example, by the end of the first chapter of Afterlife, you knew that Lane was a college student facing one final project before graduation, and even found out that topic. That set the stage for everything that was to come in her life through the story. You got a little backstory, her friendship with Mia, and her love of her medium. But mainly, you understood her purpose and the challenge and conflict she was about to face.
- Leave some mystery! – Make your readers wonder, early on, about the secrets of your characters. Whether they are revealed within the first few chapters, or not until the end of the book, either way you need to keep them guessing, and therefore reading. Again, with Afterlife, it was made clear as soon as I introduced Harry (Hayden) in to the story that he was hiding something. It isn’t until the end of the first book you find out what. He hints, you wonder, you have your ideas. But you never really know what he went through, until he finally breaks down and tells Lane his all.
- Have an emotional arc AND a plot arc – these two things are not synonymous. Your characters need to be emotionally driven. People make choices and decisions out of emotion, but these outcomes are real and have consequences that can ripple through other aspects of their lives. The emotional state between Harry (Hayden) and Lane slowly turns from antagonistic, to friendship, to more. But neither admit it, even at the end of the first book. That is an arc that merges into the second installment, bringing your reader along. Their reluctance to admit their feelings to each other ended up causing them to be on opposite sides of the world. That choice, had a consequence. You want to have both…emotion, met with actual results.
There are countless other little tid bits to consider, such as use of adjectives, verbs and the like; reading dialogue out loud for realism, and more. But these were the ones that I found to be most important for an overall story progression and revision. Also keep in mind appropriate word counts for your genre, to keep yourself from having to cut tens of thousands of words in post revision.
Revising your work never ends. Accept that now, and keep these tips in mind as you write. Because if you are going to make an impact on the agents who consider your work, you want it to be the best it can be. You only get one shot!