In this last part of the Addicted Writer’s 12-Step plan I want to share with you what literary devices and components of novel writing we, as contest readers for a major literary contest, are asked to use when critiquing entries.
Getting high marks on the following elements is what will land you in the finalist’s circle and possible win you the first place award, beginning with Viewpoint. Did you use a consistent, identifiable, and appropriate POV for the scene, and without any author intrusion? If point of view is confusing or unclear to you, be sure to study up on it because, like tense, it is the glue that holds your book together.
Next, scrutinize those characters. Have you developed your protagonist and antagonist effectively? Are they believable? Are we sympathetic to your hero or heroine? This means regardless of the mistakes they are making we understand their motives and are rooting for them to eventually figure it out. We want them to succeed, or otherwise accomplish what they have set out to do. If we don’t care, then you haven’t endeared us to them, which means we are going to close the book somewhere before page 25.
I suspect this is why most contests have you send the first 25 pages of your manuscript. If you can’t hook a reader within those first few chapters (if not the first few pages) chances are you never will.
This leads to pacing. No matter how clear your point of view, or how consistent your tense, and regardless of our empathy for your main character, if your plot does not have a compelling reason for us to turn the page – we won’t. Exactly why you must be certain every single scene whether action, narrative, or dialogue moves the story forward.
Did the author use a lot of backstory? Did the sequencing of events make sense? Did the author ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ what is happening? Is the overall flow of the novel pleasing?
If the rhythmic and smooth effect of a well orchestrated storyline isn’t there, it is often because you used too much backstory, and/or did not sequence your events properly. Either issue can cause your effect to be choppy and segmented, bogging your reader down as they struggle to keep everything straight.
If there is too much narrative (which means inactive telling rather than active showing) we are going to fall asleep, or at the very least not remember a word we just read. Which leads to the importance of tension (or suspense).
Tension and suspense begins with an opening hook… something that fully invests us in whatever lies ahead. And let’s not forget setting. No matter how surreal, it must be interesting and believable. Setting includes a timeline that carefully (and cleverly) unfolds before us in a way that grounds the reader.
Are the action scenes clear and precise so the reader always knows who is doing what to whom? Is the dialogue appropriate for the person speaking it? Can we be certain who is speaking, whether a dialogue tag is used or not (he-said, she-said)? Is every use of conversation, narrative, or an action scene necessary to move the story forward?
Do the twists and turns of the plot move progressively to a climax? Do those twists and turns show growth in your main character? Does the climax give us a clear and concise view of what they ultimately stand for? Do they win the day and if not, why not? Is the resolution to the story satisfying?
This doesn’t mean you have to tie everything up with a bow, or have a happy ending. It means your reader, upon reflection, will be glad they invested the time it took to read your novel.
Finally, mechanics matter. Nothing disturbs a story more than poor sentence structuring, bad grammar (outside of character-appropriate dialogue) or typos. Improper use of punctuation disturbs the flow of your story as much as anything.
The last thought I want to leave you with is this: Who is your intended audience? The correct answer to that does not include ‘everyone’ unless your book is required high school reading (such as, To Kill A Mockingbird).
The rest of us mere mortal writers need to define our target audience.
Choose the genre that best describes your work. Your entire stage presence depends on it. This includes your author platform, what section your novel is in at the bookstore, what time of day is best to have book signings, and who will come to your speaking engagements.
Be cognisant of your ‘fans’ (readership) with everything you do and say to promote your work, and yourself. Being true to the image you are creating as a writer is key to success.
(1) SYNOPSIS OR BOOK PROPOSAL (depending on whether fiction or non)
- Show your plot arc.
- Show your main character arc.
- Explain the main theme of your book.
- Give the resolution.
- For a longer synopsis give twists, turns, and additional (less dominant) themes.
- Be straightforward with no self-promoting through glowing adjectives.
(2) AGENTS (for traditional publishing)
- Attend conferences and pitch to genre appropriate agents.
- Google genre appropriate agents online.
- Ask a writer friend to recommend you to their agent.
- Ask an author friend to recommend you to their publisher.
- Traditional (large)
- They write you a check upfront.
- You have little input into editing and cover design.
- They take a large percent of your profit.
- You have the most credibility with large publishers and will probably sell more books because they have a readership already in place for your genre.
- They promote your work (and have it reviewed), but you still are expected to be an active participant in your author platform.
- Traditional (small)
- Small independent publishers do not write you a check upfront, but they pay for everything toward publishing.
- You are hands-on with editing and cover design.
- Small presses usually take a smaller percentage of your profit.
- You have credibility with small publishers although they generally rely mostly on you to build a readership, however, they are able to get your work into places where most self-published books are not accepted (like Barnes & Noble), and they generally will have your book reviewed by the traditional reviewers.
- Self Publishing
- Hybrids expect your work to be of a certain caliber before they will accept it. You still pay them for editing, publishing, and promotional services but you are hands-on with cover design and other decisions.
- A self-publishing publisher has a full range of services and you make all the decisions. You also pay for everything and the expense equals the services you choose. The downside is that they won’t give an honest opinion about your work, as long as you can pay, so look elsewhere for creditability.
- Self-publishing on your own (for instance, through Amazon) means that you are, well… On. Your. Own. It is, however, the cheapest way to self-publish if you don’t count the therapy sessions you’ll need on the side.
(4) AUTHOR PLATFORM
- Every type of publisher assumes or expects that you will actively (if not aggressively) maintain an author platform.
- Choose your social media by your readership and personal interests.
- Have a publicist if possible. Choose one compatible for your goals as an author.
Necessary writing elements to master (or else none of the above matters):
(5) PLOT (Do you have a suspenseful hook, interesting twists & turns, clear climax, and satisfying resolution?)
(6) POINT OF VIEW (Is it appropriate and consistent for the scene, and throughout the work?)
(7) SETTING (Is it interesting? Does it use all the senses? Does it ground your reader?)
(8) MAIN CHARACTERS (Are they relatable and well-developed?)
(9) DIALOGUE (It is clear who is speaking? Does it fit the character speaking? Is it believable and not awkward? Does it move the story forward?)
(10) MECHANICS (Did the writer use appropriate sentence structuring, grammar, punctuation, and tense for the story? It is free of typos?)
(11) INTENDED AUDIENCE (Did you define your genre and audience correctly?)
The final step?
(12) READ You must be a passionate (and if possible) prolific reader. How can you accomplish mastering a craft you do not frequently admire, appreciate, and study in its finest form? All great artists relish and revere their competitors intimately whether it be music, painting, theater, dance, or literary works. They do it for inspiration. They do it because they are obsessed and consumed by the art form itself as seen in current achievements and throughout time.
I leave you with this quote, not to confuse the issue, but to put it all in perspective:
“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.” ~Neil Gaiman
Kathryn’s next novel, Journey, will be released September, 2015 by Winter Goose Publishing
Personal blog and website: http://kathrynmattingly.com Edgy Words Unleashed
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00EILN6YE