Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Why are Agents and Publishers Rejecting Your Novel?


There are many reasons that agents and publishers reject manuscripts. These reasons fall into two categories: variables controlled by them and variables controlled by you. Anything from budgets and a full list could fall into the first category, to something as trivial as an agent looking at your sample after an argument with his/her husband/wife and barely reading it. That’s publishing for you – it was never meant to be easy!



Thick skin and persistence are obviously key here. Even the spotty, awkward, greasy teenager gets a date if he asks every single girl in the whole school. Every ‘no’ brings him closer to a ‘yes’, and it’s the same principal with finding a home for your book. Knock on enough doors and you eventually find an agent or publisher. Right? Well, partly, but, sticking with the metaphor, wouldn’t it be better to have a wash, reach for the Clearasil and get some dating advice?



This is where the second set of variables become important. What can you do to attract attention and impress potential backers? More importantly, what might you be doing to ruin your chances of finding representation?



Not researching the agent or publisher thoroughly

It’s tempting to send samples out in all directions to see what sticks, but wouldn’t it be better to take the time to find the best match for your work? No poetry, children’s book, sci-fi, etc. means just that. No publisher ever is going to be so dazzled by your work that they will change their ethos to work around you. Don’t waste their time. Instead, show them respect and tell them why you have chosen them specifically in your cover letter. If you can’t think of a reason, they might not be the agent or publisher for you.



Not presenting your work to their specifications

Agents and publishers each have their own specifications governing submissions. Read them! Some things are generally similar – 12pt font, Times New Roman, double-spaced, one side of A4 – however, there are variables in their content requirements – email/snail mail, long/short synopsis, one/three chapters/whole manuscript. They may ask for a reading fee, a reference, a CV. The only way to find out is to check their website or The Artists’ and Writers’ Yearbook.



Not Presenting your work professionally

Are your sample chapters, cover letter and synopsis printed on good quality paper, well-aligned, free from thumbprints? Have you put them in an A4 envelope and neither stapled nor folded them? Are you proud to send this first impression to the people that hold your future in their hands? If not, bypass the postbox and head straight to the bin.



Not checking for errors

When you have solved cosmetic problems, the next step is confronting the text. Is your manuscript full of errors? This is an interesting and difficult question; if your manuscript is full of error, you have made them and might not be aware of them. A better question would be to ask if you are the best person to judge if there are errors in your sample. I suggest getting as many eyes on deck as possible. A professional proofread is never a waste of money.         



Not reworking your manuscript sufficiently

I’m sure there is no need for me to say this, but you shouldn’t be sending anyone your first draft. The first draft is merely the clay that you can then rework into your masterpiece. It is a springboard to greater work. There are no hard and fast rules about how many times you need to edit a book, but the more work you put in, the better the result, so allow yourself to be driven by your own high standards. Again, get as many people to read it as possible. A professional manuscript assessment is a great way of looking at the novel with fresh eyes and discovering strengths and weaknesses in both the project and your writing skills.



Underestimating the role of a writer

It takes hard work, determination, practise, sacrifice and devotion to be a writer. Many authors fail to find representation until they have written a number of books, developing skills with each project. Others find success later in life, again building and honing their skills over time. If you have chosen writing because of £million book deals and overnight success stories, you may be approaching this from the wrong angle. There are no shortcuts and no replacement for a lifetime of development. Take a course, join a writing group, get as many people to read you as possible so you can gain a sense of where you are in terms of your abilities. Seeking publication is applying for the Olympics. Are you ready for that?



Underestimating the additional role of a writer

Agents and publishers are primarily looking for great, well-written books. They are also concerned with who is writing them. In the 21st century ‘who you are’ in this context means ‘who you are online’. Do you have a blog? Have you been published online or in magazines? Have you self-published? What do your Facebook and Twitter accounts look like? Are you presenting yourself as someone who is capable of building hype and publicising your own book? Do you have any significant contacts that you can share in your cover letter?      



Finally, sadly, flogging a dead horse

Your book just might not be good enough. It’s blunt, I know, but this is a reality that we all have to face at some point in our careers. We have devoted six months or a year or fifteen years to a book, we have put our souls into it, and we’ve accidentally produced a stinker. You can try to mend it, seek advice, edit hard, but some books were never meant to be. I have seen writers crushed beneath the weight of their magnum opuses for decades, unwilling to let them go because they have devoted themselves to them for so long. This is no way to live. Sometimes, it’s okay to simply let go, take what you have learned to your next project and keep moving forwards.



Hayley Sherman has been helping writers move towards publication for ten years.
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Friday, 24 November 2017

Show Don’t Tell - The Writer’s Mantra! But When is it Okay to Tell?

‘Show don’t tell’ is the single most valuable piece of advice a writer can receive. Don’t tell the reader what’s going on, get out your box of paints and create a world that readers can disappear into. Don’t explain what’s happening, stay in the moment and allow the events to unravel, detail by detail. The closer you get to the action or drama, the more immersed your readers will become in your fantasy.

We all know the Chekhov quote now – ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’­ – and it’s a great illustration of the point.

Every time I assess or edit a fresh manuscript for a client, the words ‘show don’t tell’ will always pop up at least once in my notes, whether it’s simply a need to show the heat and tension on a character’s face rather than simply writing, ‘She was angry’, or a greater sin of completely lapsing into distant overview and summarising whole scenes when what we really need is to stay in the moment.

However, there is definitely a time and a place for telling. You just need to make sure you know when and where that is.



I am rereading We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and rediscovering what a masterclass it is on the subject. It’s hard to talk about the book without spoilers, so I will simply say that Rosemary’s story is unravelled throughout the early decades of her life, which Fowler achieves through a balance of scene-building and overview, showing and telling, both of which are necessary because of the scope of the story. The genius of this narrative is Fowler’s instinct for when to zoom in for a closeup of the moments of Rosemary’s life and when to pull away to show readers the bigger picture. She does so with a deft hand that allows her to skip from the past to the present, and uses the distinct first-person voice to colour her ‘telling’ with the opinions and character of her narrator that make the book so unique. I highly recommend taking a look.

Zooming in and out is a great way of addressing the showing and telling issue. For the most part, we obviously need to be zoomed in. This is where readers are flies on walls that you are creating, eavesdropping on the dialogue, absorbing interactions moment by moment, interpreting nuanced behaviour into character and plot (with no ‘telling’ from you). The telling comes in when you need to convey something that cannot be shown … and I mean really cannot be shown; this does not include explanations of what a character is feeling, unnecessary chapter introduction and summaries of what’s generally going on (which often show a lack of confidence in your ability and underestimate the intelligence of your readers).

So, when can you tell?

‘Telling’ often becomes necessary when there are gaps that need to be filled; either the past needs to be explained or time has moved on and your readers need to know what’s happened in their absence. This is where I encourage you to get creative and ask questions of your project. Do you need to tell as much as you think in the exposition? Would you be creating a more challenging read if background was implied rather than directly revealed? And when used, what can you do to create ‘telling’ that is as absorbing and compelling as the ‘showing’? Fowler and others zoom in and out even within exposition, often throwing in fragments of scenes and dialogue alongside summary to illustrate their ‘telling’; what can you do in this way to dissolve the distance that ‘telling’ creates?

This is especially challenging with first-person narratives, where you are firmly positioned inside your main character’s head and it is tempting to explain what they are thinking and experiencing rather than showing it, which is why it is so important to consider how you are going to approach this kind of commentary before beginning. Even if you have created a character whose thought processes, worldview and personal voice are so dynamic and captivating that we are hanging off every thought they have, we will still get closer to them if we are allowed to see out of their eyes and experience the world the way they see it, rather than simply being told about it.


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Sunday, 5 March 2017

Staying Motivated When You’re Skint, Pissed Off and Your Protagonists are Stalking Your Nightmares

You’re skint! You’ve been working on the same soul-hungry, ink-draining, end-dodging novel/screenplay/collection for so long that its characters have started to lurk around the corners of your nightmares and jump out at you with their demonic hair and crazy weapons of doom. When you wake up they’re still there, demanding your attention even though it’s a sunny day and you’ve been told there are actually real people in the world. You’ve starting to compare yourself to people your age, from your best mate to J.K. Rowling, both of whom have achievements that far outweigh your own. You’ve started to hide from your laptop because it’s looking at you all the time and you’re sure you can hear it calling you. Why aren’t you writing? You can’t run from me forever! You walk into the library and your heart sinks at the sheer volume of books confronting you. What could you possibly have to say that hasn’t already been said? And no one’s reading them anyway. You’re battling to produce a masterpiece that will end up in this large-print, pensioner-fingered graveyard before it’s even lived a life. All is lost!

But you know deep down that this is what you signed up for. You know that you can make a killing but not a living with a pen, so you drag yourself through the lean years. You know that there will be days when your characters salute you when the sun goes down and you can snuggle under your duvet as a hero of the craft, so you tolerate the struggle. You know that the majority of writers find success later in life and you’re in no hurry, but how can you keep your sanity in the meantime, when your self-confidence has buggered off in a taxi with your talent and you’re sitting on the floor thinking the unthinkable – of getting a proper job? Maybe this will help …

Read Something Awesome
This could be the book that you’ve been waiting to hit the shelves, a biography by an author who has been through what you’re going through, or your favourite book, which you’ve already read one hundred times. There is a danger of falling out of love with books when your own has had you in a headlock for so long, so be good to yourself and get into bed with a classic.

Do something Awesome
I waste a lot of time when I should be writing and I end up doing nothing. I think I’m fooling myself, but I’ve got my number. Watching ‘just one episode’ on Netflix, cleaning the house from top to bottom, alphabetising my shoes; this is not writing and I am fooling nobody. If writing just isn’t going to happen then better to be honest about it and go out into the world than spend a day wracked with guilt and zero productivity. Go have a good time and feel good. Go and do something awesome and inspiring and your creative world will reap the benefits anyway.

Make Contact with Awesome People
Write a letter (yes, a letter) to your favourite author. Why? Because they might actually write back to you with words of encouragement. Because it will make you feel good to reach out. Join writing forums and get Tweeting, join a real-life writing group to meet other writers who have pulled half their hair out over questions of point of view and characterisation. Get support.

Try an Awesome New Medium
If you’re a novelist, have a go at writing a screenplay; if you’re a screenwriter, try your hand at poetry; if you’re a poet, see what it feels like to develop a play; if you write comedy, get serious; if you are a literary author, lighten up; if you tend to write long, sprawling sentences, see what short bursts are like. Go further still; if you usually tell a story with words, try doing it with music or art, film or dance. There are many ways to tell a story and so many creative spaces in which to park your beautiful mind.

Write to Your Awesome Self
I read this tip in a book many years ago and it’s such a charming idea. Quite simply, write an emergency letter to be opened in times of deep dejection and distress. Write it when you’re feeling great. You’re the best writer ever. George Orwell and Virginia Woolf had a love affair and you were the result. There has never been a writer quite like you. Write it all down and go into specifics, remind yourself of what inspired you to write in the first place and what you would like to achieve with this project. Be kind to yourself.

Need help? Hayley Sherman has been supporting independent writers for nearly ten years as an editor, creative consultant and ghost-writer. Visit www.whoosh-editing.com for more details.


Friday, 22 July 2016

Writing as Improvisation

I recently read Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson with my book group and found one of the bravest and most inspiring writer-based lines I have ever read:

Every day I went to work, without a plan, without a plot, to see what I had to say.

She was falling apart by this stage, fighting a battle with the fog, and, as it had throughout her life, writing pulled her through her despair. She was so broken and crushed by the weight of her experiences that she could barely vocalise her thoughts or bring food to her lips, but she had this place of words and stories in which to immerse herself and from it came great healing. The restorative power of artistic endeavour is beyond inspiring, but I was particularly astounded by her courageous faith in the unknown, to simply see what she had to say each day, improvising a world in which to insert herself with no thought for the end result. And this time of improvisation yielded not only the return of sanity but also The Battle of the Sun, a book for children.

For the rest of us, just how easy is it to write to see what we have to say? Personally, I have found the experience incredibly overwhelming, but with surprising and compelling results. It’s also a little frightening. Writing in this way is a direct route to the subconscious – why kick that hornet’s nest? – but it is highly recommended for just that reason, because you never know what you’re going to manifest – on the page and in your world.


As writers, we already know the power of ‘free writing’, because to a lesser extent, writing is always improvisation. We never know what a character is going to say or how we will express their movements, even if we are working to a strict plan. We are often swept off into fantastical new directions that we simply couldn’t have imagined without the act of writing them. I don’t know how it works, but it does, so why not try to harness this with a 100% improvisation practice, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day, just to see what you have to say? You can start by plucking a first line or subject out of the air, or from a newspaper/the internet, use a photograph or work of art to inspire you, or bravely simply commit to keeping your pen moving for ten minutes with absolutely no preconceptions. I promise you won’t regret it.

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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Top Ten Words I Found Down the Back of the Sofa

 I love a good top ten list and more importantly, search engines love a good top ten list, so I have compiled my own catchy countdown to draw the masses away from the mainstream Top Ten Movies, TV Shows and Celebrity Arse Cracks and back to the mothership that is the English language. This is Action 159 (Clause 12) of my cunning manifesto to take over the world with a dictionary in one hand a mug of peppermint tea in the other.
But first let me take you back a bit …

To my shame, as a child when reading, I was a skipper rather than a looker-upper, because who has the time to pull out a dictionary for every unfamiliar word when you’re a) immersed in a great book and b) more than capable of inventing a definition for the word using its sound and context? But this is where I had been going wrong; this is where mistakes are made from which one might never recover. For example, who knew the words demotic and demonstrative had absolutely nothing to do with demons? Who knew ‘bucolic’ was neither a disease nor a vegetable? Who knew a ‘sibilant’ wasn’t a robotic, mutant brother?

So, in recent times, I have treated mystery words with a little more respect, especially as it is impossible to skip words in conversations with learned colleagues who have never missed a dictionary call in their lives, and making up my own definitions leads only to embarrassment – a despot is not served for pudding, Dada is not mama’s partner, a filigree is not an accommodating horse.

Several discoveries have emerged from my rehabilitation from crimes against language; the first is a realisation that there are literally words for everything. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but now I am committed to learning the meaning of every single word in the English language, I am convinced that many words are surplus to requirement. Interlocutor: a person having a conversation. Do we really need that one? Sonorous? I have given this word so many different meanings over the years and now I discover that all it means is deep and full. Call me old fashioned, but we already have two words for that: one is deep and the other is full. Lubricious (nothing to do with the joy of Durex Play): the simple definition of this is lewd. What I’m realising is that I should be in charge of giving words their definitions. I would be so much better at it than the joker who decided that a wonderful word like nebulous, a jewel of the OED – neberendingfabulousness – should simply mean vague.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, or cataclysm and monochrome (which actually means disaster and black and white, but let’s not Serra (Greek dance) with semantics). I love words; of course I love words. I have always loved words; I work with words; I would eat them for dinner if I could. So you won’t be surprised to find that as I worked through my blind spots I uncovered more than the odd word that made me smile. And so was born my top ten words found down the back of the sofa. I suppose I only figurative found them down the back of the sofa (or I literally found them down the back of the sofa if you’re a young person gamely determined to use the word ‘literally’ in literally every sentence and hang the consequences – I literally salute you). Enjoy …

Ten
Assuage
I include this on my list not for its meaning but because I don’t think I have ever heard it spoken, although fiction writers seem to love it. Desires and unpleasant feelings are always being assuaged, but I’m still not sure I know how the word would feel in my mouth should I need to get my assuage on.

Nine
Patina
We’re just warming up, so another fairly straightforward word, but this one seemed to appear from nowhere one day. I simply hadn’t heard of it, but then it was in every single book I read. Isn’t it strange when you learn something and then it’s suddenly everywhere although you’ve never heard of it before? It’s as if the world gave birth to it at the exact moment I discovered it. Patina: the green film found on bronze.

Eight
Lepidopterist
Now we’re cooking with gas! A student of butterflies and moths.

Seven
Costive
What can I say? I’m a childish girl-woman. This word isn’t an adjective relating to a popular coffee house chain, or a projection you would find on an accountant’s spreadsheet; it simply refers to something that causes constipation. Ha! It’s such a benign- and innocuous-looking word … and I thought I had heard of all the toilet-related words that existed.

Six
Frugivorous
Just look at it! It’s ugly but beautiful at the same time; awkward but self-contained; harsh, almost violent and then peaceful in the last few syllables. The shape of this word tells a thousand stories and takes the tongue on journeys previously untraveled. And its meaning? Fruit-eating.

Five
Xanthochroid
This is included because I previously only knew the words xenon, xenophobia, Xerox, Xmas, X-ray and xylophone beginning with X. But X has far more to deliver than this: xenogamy, xenoglossia, xenopus, etc., etc. I feel as if I have never lived when I look at these words. My number five simply describes a person with light hair and a fair complexion.

Four
Fecundity
If assuage was chosen because I didn’t quite know how it would feel in my mouth, I have chosen fecundity for the exact opposite reason. I know how it feels and it’s positively filthy. Say it out loud, savour the syllables – fe-cun-di-ty. How isn’t this a sexually explicit swear word? Disappointingly, it simply means fertility (for which we already have a word, which is fertility!)

Three
Skeuomorph.
This is a physical object or design which is made to resemble another material. That sounded quite complicated when I looked it up, but it’s really simple. For example, when you use an app that’s designed to look like something that exists in the real world (a computer keypad, a bookshelf, pages of a notepad), this is skeuomorphic. I’m not sure why this word appeals. It just does; perhaps because I only discovered it a few nights ago and it still has that fresh and exciting glow.

Two
Defenestration
Proving conclusively that there is a word for absolutely everything, this simply means to throw someone or something out of a window. I love that it is clean, succinct and specific. This word can do no wrong in my eyes.      

And at Number One
Moribund
This word absolutely stole the show for me for its awkward and unusual positioning in the sentence; the very knowledge that this word exists makes me smile most days. It is an adjective meaning ‘at the point of death’. So, for example, a slaughterhouse din might be a cacophony of moribund squeals. A man with his head in a guillotine might have moribund thoughts of a better life where his head hasn’t ended up in a guillotine. Love it!


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    Monday, 18 May 2015

    Stop Talking Sh*t! Start Writing Believable Dialogue!

    There is good dialogue and there is bad dialogue and depending on which you are writing, it will make or break your story. Nothing engages a reader more than realistic dialogue and nothing disgruntles a reader more than a phrase that is contrived, clichéd and unnatural; it will pull a reader away from your lovingly crafted prose quicker than a flat character or a thin plot could ever do.

    It is not too much of a surprise, then, to discover that writing dialogue is one of the most challenging elements of fiction writing and one which takes time to master. The following list should help you through the minefield of dos and don’ts.


    Do…

    Listen to how people talk

    This is the best way to learn about speech patterns and natural dialogue. People have many different methods of verbal expression which vary depending on who they are talking to, what they are talking about, their mood and their upbringing. Taking notes from real life will really improve the authenticity of your dialogue.

    Use dialogue to move the story forward

    Dialogue in fiction is an economical representation of the real thing. In addition to being realistic, it must be purposeful. Read your dialogue and ask whether it has a function. Does it establish tone or mood? Does it reveal anything about the plot or characters? Does it add to the relationship that the reader is building with the speaker? Does it add or create conflict? If it doesn’t have a purpose, delete it.

    Break up dialogue with action

    Breaking up the dialogue is especially useful when handling large sections of speech which a reader may find tedious. Including actions alongside dialogue also gives the reader a sense of the conversation taking place in the real world, which elevates the conversation above mere words on a page.

    Vary the use and placement of speech tags

    Speech tags indicate who is speaking and are essential in following dialogue (he/she said). Varying the use and placement of the tag will help the flow of the conversation and prevent the dialogue from becoming tedious. Place tags at the beginning, middle or end of speech. When experienced, a writer instinctively knows the most effective use of tags and when to leave them out completely.

    Give each character a distinct voice

    In theory, a reader should be able to read a line of speech and identify which character is saying it. There are many techniques for achieving this. You may give your character a distinct accent, use habitual phrases or mistakes which they tend to repeat or vary the speech patterns through the grammar. Paying attention to what a character will and will not talk about, their level of intelligence and sense of humour will also create the difference.

    Be aware of pace

    As with all elements of writing fiction, you are in control of the pace. In urgent situations, when you want to pick up the pace, leave out or limit narration and tags. To slow the pace and building suspense, use monologues and longer sections of narration.

    Read widely

    The best way to learn is to see how the masters do it. Read within your genre and note techniques that really work.

    Test your dialogue by reading aloud

    With dialogue, the ears are often a better judge than the eyes. Listen to the dialogue to hear the flow and notice the mistakes that interfere with it.


    Don’t…

    Use dialogue to dump information

    This is where trust in your reader is essential. If you have done your job well, the reader will be able to follow the story as it slowly unfolds without a character speaking for the sole purpose of filling in a back story, reminding the reader of past details or over-explaining. Information dumps are unnatural, lazy and annoying. Don’t let them slip into your writing.

    Obsess about grammar

    People don’t obsess about grammar when they speak and you shouldn’t when you are writing speech. People speak in incomplete sentences, leave out words and interrupt each other. Relaxing the grammar can only help your dialogue to be more believable.

    Overdo Tags

    You may be tempted to replace ‘he/she said’ with ‘he roared, whimpered, gushed or barked’, but you will be in danger of drawing too much attention to the tag and away from the dialogue. When the dialogue is strong, simple tags will suffice and keep the reader engaged with what is really important. As stated earlier, use action to ground the reader in the reality of the conversation.

    Overuse slang, stereotypes and Ummms!

    Beware of overusing stereotypes and slang. These can distract or alienate your reader. They will also age your work. In real speech people take time to think about what they are saying and ‘Ummming’ and ‘Ahhhing’ is commonplace, but to keep the dialogue economical and interesting, use this sparingly.

    Hayley sherman has been supporting indie authors for ten years. Find out more ...
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    Wednesday, 30 July 2014

    10 Questions to Ask of Every Single Chapter You Write…




    1. Are the Opening Paragraphs Slowing it Down
    Chapter divisions are a necessary part of a book, helping to pace the whole, but this doesn’t mean you have to give them too much respect and spend endless paragraphs at the beginning of the chapter re-introducing the setting, plot or characters. The very best chapter openings are those that take the readers straight into the action, resisting the temptation to recap an overview of the story so far or simply take a literary breath, where nothing is actually happening, but somehow you’ve kept the pen moving. Whatever’s happening in your chapter, get to the point as quickly as you can to keep the book moving forward.  

    2. What Do We Know Now About the Plot that We Didn’t Know in the Last Chapter?
    This question could be rephrased to ask ‘what is the point of this chapter’? This is something that it is useful for you to know before you start writing to keep you on track. As an editor, I often read chapters where it seems that nothing in particular happens. One reason for this is that the author has forgotten their creative licence and taken a linear pathway through the story rather than simply picking and choosing a tightly plotted route where something is always happening to take us ever onwards. That’s the beauty of being a writer; you really don’t have to include all the boring bits that happen in life in order to get the interesting bit. Be succinct in your writing and make sure that every single chapter moves your reader forward in some way. Remember, ours is such a disposable culture that it only takes one slow or ‘bad’ chapter where nothing much is happen for a reader to potentially pass you over for another read.

    3. How Has Your Lead Character (Other Characters) Developed?
    Again this is about making every chapter count. Use your plot development and the interaction between characters to show us exactly what makes your characters tick. Ideally they will be constantly affected by the events of your novel, so take the time to ask what this particular chunk of story is going to do to them. If your characters remain essentially unchanged throughout then something has gone wrong.

    4. Is Any Part of the Chapter Unnecessary?
    There are a range of reasons why parts of the chapter may be unnecessary, two of which are outlined in the preceding questions (not progressing plot or character). The ideal is for you to keep moving forward, and cutting unnecessary passages will help this, whether it’s that you are spending a little too long hammering a point home that you nailed in a few paragraphs, or you’ve written a killer description that you love, but it really is slowing the narrative down. It could be that you have chunks that are a little repetitive because you want to feel confident that you have got your point across. Have faith in your readers and your own writing ability that they will understand what you are writing immediately without dead, repetitive passages. Be ruthless in your cutting to create the best possible read.

    5. What is there for Your Readers to Wonder About?
    This is a huge question, responding directly to the reasons that readers choose to read at all. Whatever you are writing, you need to be one step ahead of the reader because readers want to be challenged. Mystery is not simply the domain of the crime writer; whatever you are writing, you need to leave your readers guessing. If you are asking what there is for your readers to wonder about with every chapter you write, you stand a good chance of creating a book that will deeply satisfy even the most skilled, plot-unravelling mind.

    6. What is there for Your Readers to Care About?
    Another reason that readers read is pure escapism and it is your responsibility to create an island for their imaginary vacation. The only way that this can happen is for you to get your readers emotionally involved, so you have to continually ask what you have created that your readers will care about. This is an extremely loose question because there are a number of ways to care and it is up to you to decide which is appropriate for you and your story. Empathy is the key here; if readers are able to relate to the characters you are creating and the situations that you put them in then you have a jumpstart.

    7. Has Any Opportunity for Action Been Missed?
    This is an interesting point to make and not one that is always apparent to the writer unless they make a point of adding it to a chapter checklist. Again this has become apparent to me as an editor, reading fiction of all kinds, and relates to how you choose to tell your story. Of course, there are many ways to plot events in a novel and quite simply, the most exciting route is a wrecking ball through the middle of the drama as it happens. This is how truly exciting fiction emerges. Let me qualify this by giving you an example of the alternative: picture a thriller, perhaps a detective novel, where the protagonist spends most of his or her time thinking, going over evidence, talking to people, cracking on with the clues and then eventually solving the case. It sounds good, but how much better would it be if the same protagonist always arrived at times of danger and has to put his or her life on the line to get to the truth and the clues put him or her under further private peril and he or she barely scrapes it to the end of the book in one piece? Just as mystery isn’t just the domain of the mystery writer, thriller writers don’t have the monopoly on action. Even if you are writing a non-genre, literary thinker, a love story or a comedy, you need to keep your readers engaged by keeping the stakes as high as you can.

    8. Has Any Opportunity for Originality Been Missed?
    While we’re making sure that you haven’t missed any opportunities, take a moment to do an originality check. Have you read or seen anything you have written in this chapter before? Worse, have you bought into any clichés that are dominating this chapter? One of the most wonderful things about being a writer is being able to present a unique view of the world to readers. This should be presented on many levels throughout the book, from the overall vision that you want to achieve and the characters and plot that gets you there, to the way events are presented throughout each chapter, right down to language level, where you are being inventing and using your personal voice to create a unique reading experience. Taking the time to check that you haven’t sloped off into a world that’s just too familiar will help you as you write each chapter.

    9. Is Everything Right?
    This will seem like a ridiculously broad question to ask of your chapter, but accuracy is important. I have read books where Mr Smith began as a blonde teacher and ended as a ginger accountant. I have read books where he started as Mr Smith and somehow became Mr Schmitt by the end. She grew up in Suffolk but somehow now has a Geordie accent? We’re told in the first chapter that he always calls her lollypop because of the size of her head, but then we never actually see him call her it. It’s all about consistency and accuracy. Some writers keep notes as they write to make sure that they aren’t having crises of continuity. Chapter by chapter, it may just be an idea to have a read through what you’ve already written so that you are avoiding glaring errors and equally usefully, creating a consistent reading experience in terms of your style. This is also a great time to mention SHOW don’t TELL, which I’m hoping needs no further explanation.

    10. Will the Ending Keep the Pages Turning?
    Chapter endings give readers the option of reading on or slipping their bookmark in for the night and coming back to you another day. Ideally you want the former, so approach the end of the chapter with this in mind. I have read books where every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, which was great apart from the fact that I don’t remember getting any sleep at all throughout the whole reading experience. Not every book needs to have this level of drama, but ask yourself how you can end your chapter to guarantee, at the very least, a return visit from the reader. An unresolved issue is great. What also works is a reveal – readers will always want to read on to see what happens next. Surprises and twists are great also. Basically I would just encourage you to utilize what you have with the beginnings and endings of chapters and steer clear of ‘the day begins’ and ‘the day ends’ kinds of openings and closings. Chapter divides are a great tool for you to explore and master, so take the time and see what you can do.




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