Rejection is never fun. I know, I’ve been there. With the thousands of manuscripts out in the mail and the hundreds more sitting piled on an editor’s desk, your submission must stand out immediately above the gargantuan slush-pile in order to be considered. While a fine-tuned query letter is just the first step to catching an editor’s attention, your story must be able to keep it.
Yet, how do you make your story stand out? Well, that’s not an easy question, and there’s no definite answer. Originality, voice, tone, unique characters and richly detailed cultures and settings are just a few items that top the list. These are also things that many writers focus on. Yet the other big item that surprising many people forget to sit back and analyze is the biggest element of all: Plot.
So, you’ve written your story, your characters are well-rounded, your protagonist is wounded and the climax rises higher than Mt. Everest. But does it work? Below are a few questions to ask yourself at the first stage of editing, before doing the detailed line by line critique. If at any time you get a “no” or a negative answer to any of the questions, you need to stop and really think about what’s going on, and how you can fix it:
1. Is your story good? Be honest. Are you satisfied what you wrote? Wait, cancel that, are you excited about what you wrote? Can you see others liking it?
2. Is your opening line/paragraph compelling? Does it draw you in, make you want to continue on, willing to go through the next 300 pages to find out what happens at the end? A large percentage of readers look at the first few paragraphs in a book before buying, and if you don’t catch their interest immediately they’ll move on.
3. Does anything actually happen? Are there events that propel the story forward, forcing the characters to act? Rather than just decide to go down the block for a stroll, is the character forced to run to the nearest payphone in order to…you get the point.
4. Does the dialogue work, and is it believable? Do you have it evenly mixed throughout the story, so that you don’t have ten pages of conversation in the middle of a battle scene?
5. Do your subplots contribute to the overall storyline? Or do they just divert the reader away from the main plot long enough to add in a few chapters of text in order to make the book a bit thicker? If subplots are not directly influential or relevant to the main story, they need to be taken out.
6. Do the characters react appropriately/realistically to the situations presented? In other words, do they act naturally for their characteristics, and do they respond to each obstacle as readers would expect? You wouldn’t make the only guy in the group that’s afraid of the dark dash valiantly into the cave in order to save the kitten – or at least without some hesitation and the introduction of other events that leaves no other alternative…
7. Is the climax built up enough? Do you have enough events leading to the climax that the reader is aware they are actually getting somewhere, and are excited about it? Does your climatic ending create emotion?
8. Is your plot an archetype – that is, an overly done storyline that is seen in many other works of art and fiction: ie. The Cinderella story; beautiful girl is suppressed by overzealous parents/stepmother and is helped out by a friend/fair godmother who in turn transforms the princess/geek into the girl of the prince/popular kid in school’s dreams? Avoid archetypes as much as possible. Sometimes you can’t avoid it, but try.
While of course this is not a guarantee that your manuscript will be accepted, it will definitely help enhance your plot line and yourself from the scrutinizing eye of a trained editor or reader.