Monday, November 30, 2015

NaNoWriMo 911: Insider Tips on Getting Published

According to Harlan Coben, “Let me back up a little and tell you why I prefer writing to real life: You can rewrite. A novel, for example, can be cleaned up, altered, trimmed, improved. Life, on the other hand, is one big messy rough draft.”

While it’s true that writing can be revised, editing your novel to perfection is anything but easy. Now that we’re midway through National Novel Writing Month, do you already have something worth showing the world, or have you not even begun to jot down a single word? Writing your masterpiece is extremely difficult—we can all agree with that. But thanks to an editing master class I attended last month during the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators conference that our home country hosted this year, I at least got a glimpse of how editing actually works.

Award-winning author Sally Breen held a writing workshop last October 24th titled “What Editors Want”, and the class was just that—an insider peek at the publishing landscape so that we can finally find out what exactly editors want. She shared a bunch of do’s and dont’s on how to get noticed and how to rise above the so-called slush pile, so without further ado, here are some insider editing tips that I’m totally sharing with all of you (free of charge!):

1.Looks matter.

Yes, even manuscripts have to look nice. The format of what you are submitting tells a lot about you and your work, so if you want to be taken seriously, get your act together and fix your formatting. A well-written piece with a professional font spells the difference between an amateur and someone an editor can actually work with.

2. First impressions last.

You should be able to capture your reader’s attention by the first line, or at least, by the end of your first page. Beginnings matter so much because this is where you set everything. The first line should be completely arresting, and in the first paragraph alone, something must already happen. Something must shift—do not wait to withhold information from your readers. As all successful authors will tell you, it’s imperative that you show and not tell. Do not explain things; instead, reveal them as things happen. “Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing,” says C.S. Lewis. “I mean, instead of telling us a thing was ‘terrible’, describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please, will you do my job for me.’”

3. Exposition has to be well-placed.

Many writers fall into the trap of letting their main characters think to themselves too much. Don’t let your characters walk around explaining stuff. You don’t do that to yourself in real life, do you? Even descriptions need to feel natural and need to flow seamlessly, so don’t use redundant words. Be careful that your metaphors don’t distract the reader from the moment, and stay clear of rambling sentences especially in description. “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot. It's not just a question of how-to, you see; it's a question of how much to. Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how. You can learn only by doing,” says Stephen King.

4. Transition without transitioning.

You know how scenes in a movie just move from one to the next? When you are writing your scenes, think like a director. Don’t transition between settings. Don’t transition between chapters. Just cut into it—this helps hold a reader’s attention all throughout a piece.

5. The voice of your character must stand out.

Your voice should never be pedestrian. Language flavor is essential to making sure your character is unique and not bland. Always remember to let your character talk his age—if he’s a rebellious teenager with a penchant for breaking the rules, let him talk like one. If she’s a gentle old lady with the mouth of an angel, then by all means, sanctify her and let her talk like she should. Description should also suit your character’s voice, even if he is not speaking. What are the things you would normally think about or say to yourself? Poor word choice makes a character inauthentic, and your reader will be able to catch that easily.

6. Your story should connect to the reader on a thematic level.

Every tale reveals a universal truth that all readers can relate to. Is it a classic struggle between good and evil? Is it all about the intricacies of falling in love? Or is it a coming-of-age story and the rite of passage every youth must go through to survive in the real world? Each novel is talking about who we are, and what you’re saying about the human condition. What do you want your reader to think and feel at the end?

7. Always have a contemporary connection.

Your piece should have a particular style or genre. Understand the industry and what other people have done previously, and contribute. For instance, speculative fiction is all the rage right now, but do you want to be just another wannabe author who writes Twilight fanfiction? What are you doing to advance the genre? Are you bringing something new to the table?

8. Just write.

When it’s all said and done, you will never have a manuscript to edit the heck out of if you don’t even begin to write your story in the first place. The anal editing will come later. For now, set those ideas free from the dusty confines of your head and write your story. Just keep writing until you come up with a solid piece, then edit. Brutally. After all, C.K. Webb said, “Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity...edit one more time!”

*This article was first published on The Philippine Online Chronicles HERE.

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