26 March 2011

Lessons from the Trenches: Dancing with your manuscripts

Did you know potential agents and editors are usually multi-tasking when they're reading your ms? They're walking the dog, or playing with the kids, or maybe laying in bed after a day of hard work.

Well, that's pretty crappy for us writers who need to make the first one hundred works sparkle as much as Edward in order for them to want to keep reading. No longer can writers take a leisurely stroll through a setting to get to our main character. We must be slapped in the face with the main character, action, and a problem right from the beginning.

Thats the idea behind this panel.

Authors glutton for punishment could submit the first one hundred words of a ms to some very good writers at Moseley House in Charlottesville. The panelists included

Jennifer Elvgren
Andy Straka
Fran Cannon Slayton

So, here's the process
1. Moderator reads first 100 words of a ms.
2. Panelists hold up red or green cards depending on if they would stop reading or are interested in hearing more.
3. Panelists explain their decisions.
4. Lather, Rinse, Repeat as many times as you can in 1.25 hours

So, what did I learn?

Your first one hundred words need to:

1. include some sort of decision that must be made by MC
2. give a sense of place/setting right off the bat
3. start the conflict
4. be punchy. There will be time for detailed world-building later.
5. show us something in a new way. Get over yourself. Get rid of cliches.
6. be full of lively verbs. Get rid of all "was" "saw", etc. Grab us with lively verbs!
7. be new. Don't repeat words. You've got another 80k words you can repeat.
8. be adverb-free. If you use adverbs, your verbs aren't strong enough.
9. show action. Stories are about action. So get right into it.

Of course, I submitted GEMMA UP-OVER for critique. I got three greens, one red. The three greens loved the initial action and voice. Voice was highly complimented. The reason one of them gave a red card was just a personal taste reason. I use a flippant mention of Hitler in the first 100 words and she's into reading WWII books. Didn't like the joke, that was it.


SO, does your ms do the nine tips above? Or, do you need to re-write?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Nice compilation of tips, Joy. I went to "slush fest" at a writer's conference once--similar concept. Hugely eye-opening to see how few of your precious words it takes to reach rejection. Congrats on your three greens! I'm looking forward to reading about Gemma.