Ask an acquisitions editor, why reject stories by good writers? The answer is often, I can’t tell what this story is about. This response, or its cousins The conflict was slow to emerge, or There’s no story here, shows that structural problems are spoiling the party.
But developmental editors are pricey. You see their ilk the movies, and in books about producing plays. In the off-Broadway run before the big opening, the producer brings in a heavy-set guy with a cigar and introduces him to the writer and cast as the script doctor. He growls, “Here’s your problem, you’ve got no Act 2,” and goes out for a whisky sour.
It’s handy and inexpensive to learn some of the tricks to the work. Here are a few, although everybody, of course, works differently:
- If you’re a planning outliner, you might outline, not just the plot, but the plot for every character. (You’ll still surprise yourself when you draft.) If you’re more of a “pantser,” then outline after you’ve done the job. You’ll see what, if anything, is missing.
- Act 1 is the set-up; Act 2 is the Fun and Games (see Blake Snyder) and Darkest Hour; Act 3 is the Showdown and Finale. If you have all these, and you’re still a good writer getting turned down, then you might be writing in a linear fashion. You’ll need to tweak unexpected, but previously set-up, twists and turns. You get these when characters make tough choices they would never previously make. (see Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel.)
- To set your POV, make sure the first page, and every scene start after that, sets up the following: Time of Day, Place (setting, era), the Promise of Genre, Tone, and a hint at the Central Conflict.
- To keep readers, including acquisitions editors, carrying the torch of interest from the end of one scene to the start of the next, look at each scene ending and remove any last sentences that seem to finish things.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career. Cheers Mel
Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries was long listed for the 2018 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, and won the May 2018 Literary Titan Book Award. Thanks for that, lovely to hear.
Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and the Monument Studio Mysteries starring Frankie Ray. She is an Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.
If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get her pocket-sized writing guide, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume, here. Motivates, entertains, organizes, encourages, inspires. Coming soon from Pulp Literature Press: The Writer’s Friend and Confidante, a Thirty-Day Guide to Narrative Structure