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Best and Worst: Traits of a Manuscript--A Conversation for Editors

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message 1: by CJ (new)

CJ (cjcogan) | 1 comments Hello all! This is a thread for my fellow editors and I to discuss the best and worst things they see in manuscripts they edit. This thread will serve as a place for editors to talk about the things on their mind, and a resource for writers as they go through their own manuscripts.

The only rules are that you can't name authors or titles of unpublished manuscripts unless you have the explicit permission of the author. This is more about discussing trends and craft than specific instances.

Be constructive!

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Personally, when I get hired to edit, I look to improve the overall quality of the work to make it as marketable as possible to potential publishers. I've looked at manuscripts of all kinds, but there's an alarming trend in the fantasy and sci-fi genres.

The manuscript will be anywhere from 70,000 to 120,000 words and yet the whole plot will cover about 4 days. Which in and of itself is not a terrible thing, but the problem is that these writers want to jam pack so much stuff into that 4 days that the whole story comes off as plastic and false.

Especially when trying to follow a super traditional version of the Hero's Journey, 4 days will not cut it. Personally, I think more than a chapter should be dedicated to establishing the baseline in a traditional fantasy narrative, but I've seen it done a few times well.

I just finished editing a manuscript in which the MC is a woman who is dedicated to her family who are painted as tyrants. She kind of senses that they're bad internally but vehemently supports them when someone insults them.

The plot lasts 4 days, and by the end of it, she's leading the rebellion against her family. After the intense loyalty she displays, the whole thing just fell so flat. Also, there's a romance that's supposed to be epic.

I feel that it all boils down to the fact that writers are looking for emotional payoff without putting in any work. I personally don't know if I want to be friends with someone after just 4 days, so love would be nowhere on the map.

Developing the story and the plot are just as integral as the climax. In fact, the climax is dependent on a strong foundation. The longer and more detailed and developed the plot, the greater the payoff.

I'm so tired of my writers trying to cheat that.


message 2: by Kate (new)

Kate (kateu) I'll join in! As an editor and former lit assistant I've seen dozens upon dozens of manuscripts and first chapters. I love when a story beginning makes me sit up, take notice, and get excited to read more, but I see stories starting in the wrong place all the time. Admittedly this is a topic I’ve blogged about several times because I see it so often. Figuring out where to start a story and how to hook a reader can be so difficult and fresh eyes can help you tell whether a beginning works or not. I’m going to include a few specific examples here in the hopes of it helping out authors. So here are some of the common beginnings I've seen a lot of lately.

Unless you can add a fresh twist to it, I recommend staying away from cliché beginnings that are overused. For instance, showing a normal morning routine for a character (boring) or starting with a dream sequence (I see this one a lot in fantasy). Other common mistakes I see often include starting a book by giving us paragraphs of backstory on characters and then doing so again whenever a new character is introduced. Instead, reveal backstories gradually and sprinkle it throughout instead of shoving several paragraphs at the reader covering everything from a character’s childhood to their wedding. All that backstory can be overwhelming and if you have paragraphs and paragraphs of it or any other info-dumping it can slow the pacing way down.

Another common beginning is starting in the middle of the action, giving us no time to connect to the main character and get invested in whether or not they make it out alive. I need time to connect to a character before I want to root for them or fear them failing. I also need time to understand what is happening and what the stakes are. I've seen books that made starting in the middle of the action work, but it can be tricky to pull off. Another example would be unnecessary prologues, which deserves its own post.


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