What the Fiction Editor Looks For – Part 2
Yesterday we focused on the characters in your novel. Here are a few more things editors look for when reading your novel, this time, about the story itself.
The premise needs to be strong enough (as well as interesting enough) to support the entire book.
Every book needs suspense…the page-turning factor…a burning story question that the reader wants answered. An identifiable conflict.
Believability is key. Make sure everything in your story fits into the reality you’ve created in your story. Don’t stretch the reader’s ability or desire to believe.
Incorporate a strong sense of place, culture or environment, and treat it as an important character. Firmly establish setting and time period. Use sights, sounds, textures, and smells to evoke the feel of the fictional world.
Write in SCENES. A scene has three necessary elements: a location in time and space; action; and dialogue. Make sure the end of each scene drives the reader into the next scene.
Keep the “fictional dream” alive. If anything boots the reader out of that dream, they might put the book down. Things that boot us out of the dream are unrealistic events, characters being out of character, unbelievable dialogue, confusion on plot, and anything else that calls attention to the writing but detracts from the story.
Engage the reader from the very first scene—with compelling characters, setting, conflict, or action.
Craft your pacing carefully. Keep the reader turning pages but give them occasional breathers. Do this with a scene-and-sequel structure and by interspersing action with narrative.
Avoid overwriting—telling us more than we need to know, or being redundant. Convey information (especially backstory) on an as-needed basis. (RUE = resist the urge to explain.)
Watch for inconsistencies in your story. Things need to make sense.
Ruthlessly excise cliché phrases. ‘Nuf said.
Don’t overuse metaphors. And watch for mixed metaphors.
Watch for bunny trails that are either misplaced or completely unnecessary. These are tangents the writer finds interesting but don’t enhance the story or move it forward.
Make sure you have a story structure that works, something like: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement.
To convey action and a fast-paced scene, shorten your sentences.
Utilize foreshadowing carefully. Handled correctly, it can add layers of tension. If overdone, it can diminish the story.
Show how emotion plays out through action. Try to avoid telling about the emotion.
Keep readers informed. Make sure we know what we need to know about what’s happening but don’t overdo it. It’s a balance. Not enough information = confusion for the reader. Too much information = boredom.
Be careful in how you handle time. Some stories jump around in time, but you need to avoid confusing the reader. Be sure to have plenty of time cues. Things like holidays, school starting, and weather patterns can help a reader stay oriented to how time is passing in your story.
The ending of your story should be emotionally satisfying. Make sure you end it with your protagonist front and center, not in the background!
→ Of course, this is by no means exhaustive! Again, if something’s not working in your novel, assess whether any of these principles might help.
Q4U: Is there anything here you don’t understand? Anything you’d like me to expand on in a future post?
© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent