1. kaeso
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    kaeso New Member

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    Tips from a publisher

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by kaeso, Apr 23, 2013.

    I have just read trough a long blog by a guy who works at a publisher. His job is to accept or reject the manuscripts that the publisher receives. The guy has been kind enough to show the most common mistakes he has seen, and why he rejects so many of the manuscripts. The blog is old and no longer active.

    Since the blog is in that funny Norwegian language, I'll translate and shorten what I learned from it. You have probably heard some of these before, but I guess a little repetition won't harm. Some of these are pretty basic.

    BASIC PLOT
    This is probably self-explanatory, but I leave it as a reminder. A story needs a protagonist (the guy whose actions make up the story), a goal (what the protagonist wants to achieve) and an antagonist (the guy who wants to prevent the protagonist from reaching his goals). Remember, the antagonist does not have to be another character, it could be the protagonists own low self-esteem, or like in Robinson Crusoe, the world itself. The suspense of the story also has to increase, make it difficult for the protagonist to reach his goal by increasing the strength and influence of the antagonist.

    IT HAS TO MAKE SENSE
    Your protagonists actions has to make sense. Never let he or she do something without a reason, i.e. hide behind a couch when he is not in danger. Many do this without noticing it, because it makes sense for the writer and it helps the story onward. Since the protagonist hid behind the couch, he was able to overhear something that drives the story onward. Him hiding behind the couch in the first place still does not make sense.

    DON'T SHOW AND TELL
    Stick to one. Never say something like.
    "You are an idiot, and you smell like shit!" Joe insulted Vivian. Leave the insulted, we understand from the sentence that Joe is insulting Vivian. Another example: One of your characters is angry, saying and doing a lot of stuff that shows that he is angry. Never write "Joe was angry" when you have already shown that he is angry by describing his actions. The reader understands that without you needing to tell them.

    SOME THINGS ARE BEST LEFT UNDONE
    Are you writing about vampires? Or maybe a school where children are taught in the ways of magic? Don't. Do not try to ride the popularity wave. When Twilight was at its peak, 1/3 of the manuscripts was about vampires, and needless to say none of them ever saw the light of day. It's hard to stand out when everyone is writing about it. Be original.

    PERFECT PROTAGONIST
    Never let your protagonist be perfect, it takes out a lot of the suspense. He should have some flaws, or disadvantages, which makes the plot more exciting. A perfect protagonist leaves the reader feeling that the protagonist is hollow and of no importance - but if he has some flaws the reader will easier relate to him because he is more realistic. In real life, we all have some sort of flaws. Your characters should too.

    M'BWANA
    Does one of your characters originate from another country, or speaks another language as well as English or whatever the language you are writing in? Then don't overdo the por favor's and the no grazie's if he is from Spain, or the M'bwana if he is from Africa. A few here and there is OK, but people tend to overdo it.

    WHO ARE ALL OF THESE PEOPLE?
    Try to keep the number of characters low, and don't introduce heaps of people at the first chapters. Do not start off a novel by describing a family with all their names, what they do and so on. Stick to one or two, and introduce others along the way. Give the reader the opportunity to learn who is who, and make it clear to them who is important and who is not. Feel free to introduce people as "the bartender", "the taxi driver" and so on if they are of low importance. Don't feel like you have to give everyone names. The reader hates to have to go back and forth trying to remember who is who.

    GET DOWN! JAMES YELLED
    It seems as if everyone is afraid of sticking to the basic way of displaying dialogue. "Get down!" yelled James. "Get over here" whispered Joe. "I do" Vivian answered. What is wrong with "Hello" said James? According to the blogger, almost every writer is trying to mix these up as much as possible because they are afraid of being repetitive. They are using all sorts of other words instead of said. The thing is, we (the readers) are used to reading ... said James after sentences. Because of this, reading ... said James is almost a subconscious effort, while reading ... yelled James is not, and therefore takes some of the attention away from what is told in the dialogue. Keep it simple and focus on the dialogue, said James.

    PROLOGUES
    Love 'em or hate 'em. Tolkien wrote prologues, therefore every aspiring fantasy-writers are doing it as well. If you really feel you have to, then do it. But the reader has to get hooked from the get go, so heading straight into the action is a much safer way to go. Let all the wonderful descriptions about the world and the races be told by the characters thoughts and dialogues.Let them learn that the capital is named Axxoh'ruzzara, that the world is in chaos, that the King is a cyclops named Jieredan, and that there are galaxies, far, far away. If you have a prologue, know that there is a good chance that the publisher will skip it and head straight for the action to see if it is any good. Therefore you should really focus on the first part of you story.

    UNFINISHED PARTS
    This is pretty obvious, but the blogger sees examples of this all the time. Don't ever let some parts of your work seem unfinished, just because "the novel is going to be spell-checked, proofread and fixed either way before being published". Try to make product you send in as near the finished state as possible.

    HOW TO DIVIDE CHAPTERS
    This is important. If your book is divided into chapters (most of them are), you should do this in a clever way. Many separates the chapters according to the events that takes place. Chapter 25 - The protagonist barely escapes being captured. Chapter 26 - The protagonist is hiding from the bad guys. Chapter 27 - The protagonist gets captured again (yes, he is quite useless). This is not the way to do this. Let the events go along onto the new chapter. Don't end the chapter with something being resolved, this will make the reader put the book down at the end of a chapter. Let the suspense carry on over to the other chapter - and you got yourself a page turner. JK Rowling does this almost without exceptions, and needless to say it worked.

    DEUS EX MACHIMA
    This is common known, so I will keep it short. Never resolve something by playing God, just because you have written yourself into a corner. An example: James is about to be captured, but then he remembers he has a lockpick in his pocket, and is able to pick the lock and escape just before the bad guys get to him. Where did the lockpick come from? If you have written yourself into a corner, go back and fix it. Let James pocketpick the lockpick from a pocketpickers pocket a little earlier in the chapter.

    A THEN B THEN C THEN D
    This is bad. Never let your novel be a series of events that is happening regardless of each other. Mix it up. Event A happens, which causes B and C to happen. Then let the story derive from B, and save the C for later. An example:

    Don't do this: The king died, then the queen died, and then the prince became king.
    Do this: The king died, causing the queen to die of sorrow, leaving the prince to take his rightful place upon the throne.

    (Sorry for the poor example, but I hope you understand the meaning of this)

    HOW TO BE REJECTED
    The most common reason of rejection is poor spelling and language. The blogger says that 50 to 60 % of the contributions are rejected after reading a few pages because of bad grammar. If you have problems with spelling, practice! Practice, practice, practice! Your ideas may be fantastic, but if your representation is flawed, you are going to have yourself a hard time.

    I hope some of you learns something from this, or at least gets a little refreshment from it. I learned a lot from writing it.
     
  2. Mithrandir
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    Mithrandir Contributing Member

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    This is generally good advice (IMO), but I think the part about Protags and Antags is a little bit simplistic. I have a character who is the protag of one plot line(that affects the others) who has several "antags" of various sorts. Each of my top four-five characters as the protag of one plot-line, and each of these plot-lines intersect and affect each other. So, it seems a little formulaic to boil things down to: Protagonist struggles against a successful Antagonist for most of the book until the conclusion.
     
  3. Kaga
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    Kaga Member

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    I learned a lot, actually. Thanks for sharing :)
     
  4. jeepea
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    jeepea Member

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    This is pretty good advice. A writer could go a long way following these tips.
     
  5. reviloennik
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    reviloennik Member

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  6. kaeso
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    kaeso New Member

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    You are right, it is simplistic, and you can mix it up a little. The tip is just meant as a basic way to explain how to create an exciting plot. To be original and mix these up, let more than one be the protagonist, or switch around the antagonist is all right if it is working for your project. According to the guy who wrote the blog, way to many of the projects he receives does not have anything remotely near a plot, but are just a series of events.

    Thank you for your kind words everyone. I wanted to write down the tips for myself, and thought I could share it with you guys.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for sharing, and for the hard work of translating :) It's all pretty good advice and definitely useful as a basic, essential guide.

    The only one I'd disagree with is the "he said, she whispered" thing. If your character is whispering, and the fact that the reader should know she's whispering is adding to the atmosphere and the tension in the dialogue, then screw the rule. I use a multitude of dialogue tags depending on whether it's necessary to show that level of tone/voice/body language.

    And if I don't, then why would I add a tag? I'd rather add some action like, "Tim slammed his fist against the table". I actually use "said" rarely, unless it's to simply separate who's speaking in a length dialogue.

    Just my opinion though. In the end I don't think it's the most important thing - nobody's gonna reject your MS if you actually used these tags well. And if tags were the only flaw, it won't get you a rejection either. It's not a deal breaker like the protag rule, or events making sense :D
     
  8. kaeso
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    kaeso New Member

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    You are welcome. It didn't take much effort to translate it, and since there are no Norwegian forums to post the tips in, I decided to do it here. I should explain the "he said" bit. Come to think of it, this is something that is much more of a problem in Norwegian. "He said" is used all the time by most writers when writing dialogue, don't ask me why, it just is. What he meant was that you shouldn't go out of your way with the "he whispered" and "he answered". Making the characters yell at each other just because you don't want to overdo the he-said's, is not a great idea according to him.
     
  9. Karnival
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    Karnival New Member

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    That was some really good advice. I definitely find some of my writing within the pitfalls mentioned. Time to start learning again. Thanks for posting this.
     

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