Lessons from the Editor's Desk - Take Me for a Ride
by Dina Sleiman
In the first lesson of this series, I explained that I am a part-time, often volunteer editor for WhiteFire Publishing. However, I have been reviewing manuscripts for three years now, and I've learned a few things along the way that I think would be helpful to the writers among us. Today's lesson: take me for a ride!
Once I make it through the first chapter or two of a novel submission and feel confident that the book is off to a good start and a reasonable fit for my company's needs, I like to download it to my kindle. From that point on, I try to turn off my inner editor and experience the book like a reader. If it keeps me engaged and I read until the end, I might ask for some improvements, but chances are, I will recommend the book to our publishing committee.
So here's the big question: Why would I stop reading???
If I'm bored and don't desire to pick your book back up and keep reading, I won't. Plain as that. If it's not holding my interest, it won't hold the interest of many regular readers either. Here are some issues that can lead to a boring book:
Lack of Motivation
Lack of Conflict
Lack of Escalation
Lack of Emotional Intensity
Too Much Telling
Lengthy Chunks of Description
Lengthy Chunks of Narration
The most important element to keep in mind in this area is that unlike authors from the 1800s, you are competing with television, youtube, blockbuster movies, and netflix for people's attention. You need to keep your stories quick paced, present moment, multi-sensory, full of conflict, and downright exhilarating. Even a quiet, literary novel must keep these issues in mind. While you might be able to replace some conflict and action with beautiful language and deep observations about the human condition, you must still provide that engaging ride for your reader. So maybe this sort of novel would be more of a sky tram than a roller coaster, but it still needs to provide a strong story arc for a worthwhile and memorable journey.
The other reason I might put a novel down is because I don't feel confident that it will safely get me where I need to go. A reader needs to believe that the story/author is trustworthy and will fulfill the requirements of the genre in a satisfying manner. If the reader feels jolted or confused, chances are he or she will give up on the book. And I will too. Here are some typical issues in this category:
Faulty Plot Structure
Inconsistent Character Motivations
Poor Scene Choice
Point of View Issues
Jolting through Time
Jolting in and out of Scenes
No one wants to take a ride like that. I for one love a good roller coaster, but at a reliable theme park, not one tossed up by a couple of traveling carnival workers. You can't perfect one element of a novel while letting another fall into disrepair or go missing entirely. Writing a novel is a huge and elaborate undertaking. There's a lot to get right, and if even one element is weak, the entire thing can fall apart. I mean, what if one single piece of track was missing from a roller coaster? Or the pulley to get you to the top was weak or jolting? Or what if the brakes were just so so? In order to have a fulfilling ride, every piece needs to be working well and in conjunction with the others.
Don't get too discouraged. Most books have a few minor weaknesses. That's what editors are for. But again remember, I need to want to read your book until the end before we even get to that point. So make it impossible for me to put down. Take me on a journey that I'll want to finish, and you just might find yourself in print.
What makes you give up on a book? Even better, what makes you want to throw it against the wall?
Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Check out her novels Dance from Deep Within, Dance of the Dandelion, and Love in Three-Quarter time. And please join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/