I’ve recently been going through a series of punishing edits with the editor of my new romantic suspense book, Personal Assistance, which is due out next year.
Since this is my first book with this particular publisher, the editing process has been a bit of a learning curve for me. No doubt my writing has improved exponentially because of it. Editors contain a wealth of knowledge, and while at first, their suggestions might seem a little ‘off’ or awkward to get your head around, listening and implementing changes can only help your writing to grow.
Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned in the last few months:
1. Vary sentence structure
Sticking to the same sentence structure in a manuscript can be boring and slow down the pace. Jazz it up by varying your sentence length and structure. Shorter sentences increase tension and speed up pace, while longer sentences are useful for descriptions and introspective.
2. Overuse of adverbs
Watch the adverbs. Rather use stronger verbs than add an adverb on the end. For example, instead of saying He said softly, use He whispered. This is a very basic example, but you get the picture?
3. Keep it in the active tense.
This one I battled with for some time. To keep your reader in the action, stick to the present tense. So for example, instead of saying She was holding her breath, say She held her breath...
4. Deep POV
Really tap into your characters emotions. When something happens show their reaction. Not just on the surface, but how they’re really feeling deep inside. Avoid clichéd emotions like She was devastated. Rather show how shocked she was by her actions and her thoughts.
5. Overuse of first names.
Apparently this is jarring for the reader and pulls them out of the story. Use sparingly and stick to ‘he’ and ‘she’ for the most part. It reads smoother.
6. More romance than suspense
This applies to my genre of romantic suspense. The ratio is around 60/40, but editors like the romance element. So keep the romance going throughout the story. Your characters romantic journey must be pronounced, and not forgotten amidst the gunfire, car chases and stalking…
7. Ratchet up the tension
There were several moments in my manuscript where I let prime tension-building opportunities go unnoticed. Instead of just saying something, show it in all it’s gritty detail. Don’t be afraid to use military or in-depth descriptions in your writing, it adds a sense of realism and credibility. Draw out moments of potential drama. Milk them for all their worth – keep your readers on the edge of their seats.
8. More descriptions
When I was writing the novel, I got so caught up in the action I forgot to describe more fully the environment they were in. So although the setting made perfect sense in my head, it wasn’t translating to paper that well. Make sure you go over your manuscript and flesh out the setting, where they are, how it feels, looks or smells. Bring your reader into the setting in bright and vivid detail.
9. Scene goals (goal/conflict/disaster/reaction-dilemma-decision/solution)
Every scene should have a goal. This was a big one for me but my editor explained it really well. Consider The Lord of the Rings. In the first movie, the fellowship is trying to get into the Mines of Moria on their way to Mount Doom to destroy the ring. Getting into the mines, where they think they’ll find safe passage, is the scene goal. But then, they run into a Scene Conflict: The door to the mines is locked, and nothing they try seems to open it, including the wizard Gandalf’s magic. Not even the Dwarf who once lived in the mines can open it! Just as they figure out the password to open the door, the Scene Disaster strikes! One of the hobbits throws a stone into the lake just outside the mine door, and it awakens a giant kraken that wants to eat them! Then comes the Reaction-Dilemma-Decision part. They have to quickly react to the disaster. They could rescue the hobbit and make a run for it, which would be the easiest. But then they have to abandon their only safe way to Mt. Doom to destroy the ring, which is a must. So they have to fight. They win and then are able to go through the door. The next scene immediately begins with another Scene Goal: get through the mines.
10. GMC (conflict!)
This is arguably the most important of the bunch. Goal – Motivation – Conflict. But I still struggle with it. The hero and the heroine’s GMC should be in direct opposition to each other. So if he has a strong sense of duty from his military training, she must have a deep unfulfilled need to have someone put their feelings for her, before duty. It’s tough finding the right balance, and don’t be afraid to play with ideas until you get it right. Make sure you have this firmly figured out and down on paper before you start writing. Trust me… it saves a great deal of re-writing later!
Of course, this applies to my own writing style and genre, however, I think there are some valuable lessons to be learned here. If you’re a newbie writer, I’d advise you to take this advice seriously. It comes from someone who’s been doing this a long time. Apply it to your own writing. I did.
Personal Assistance, an exciting special forces adventure, will be out early 2014. Published by Entangled Publishing.
If you have any other useful suggestions for newbie writers, please share below.