Tag Archives: Guess

Dec 08

“Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent” by Mary Deal

Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent

by

Mary Deal

Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.

All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.

When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.

Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.

With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.

If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.

The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?

Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.

An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.

Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.

The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.

Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.

Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:

“Good morning, John.”

“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”

“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”

They went to leave immediately.

Or this:

“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”

Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.

The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.

* * *

Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.

To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:

http://agentquery.com

The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.

http://www.writersmarket.com

These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.

You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:

http://pred-ed.com/

Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?

I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Apr 14

“Let the Dialogue Speak” by Mary Deal

Proper use of “said” and the use of “beats” will keep a story flowing smoothly.

Books and articles turn up touting the value of replacing the use of the word said. She said. He said. Many claim said is overused and tiresome. They supply an endless plethora of verbs, nouns and adjectives to use instead. But my opinion is that, in most cases, there are no substitutes, given what said does when used properly.

Said is acceptable enough to hide in the background and not call the reader’s attention to dynamics of speech that would best be shown with proper punctuation. Said is simply a speaker attribution and tells us who said what in the course of conversation.

However, said can become grossly overworked. This is why many people have tired of it. This is an example of overuse:

“Hola, Papi,” Pablo said. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes,” his father said.

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papa,” Pablo said.

Taken from my novel, The Tropics, this conversation flows much better when written this way:

“Hola, Papi,” he said, eyes eager and smiling. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes.”

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said, starting to run away. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papi.”

Each sentence, both dialogue and narration contains slight variations. The description of actions included with dialogue is referred to as beats. The characters are not only talking. They are involved in doing something at the same time they speak.

When the actions of characters are included, the writer must be careful not to overuse beats. They serve the purpose of avoiding dialogue with a running string of “saids” or speaker attributions.

I wholeheartedly agree with Renne Browne and Dave King. In their book, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” they say:

“If you substitute the occasional speaker attribution with a beat, you can break the monotony of the ‘saids’ before it begins to call attention to itself.”

A beat is not necessary in writing, but it makes for smoother reading and understanding of the characters.

For example, if you are speaking in live conversation with someone, you hear their words and watch their body language, or watch what they direct your attention to. The beats are their gestures.

In reading, beats allow for a silent pause; a moment to digest what is being said and the action emphasizes the dialogue.

On the page, a speaker attribution identifies who is speaking. The word said is accepted because it remains in the background. It does not make us pause to visualize or try to understand the way that the character speaks. Here’s another example when said has been replaced:

“What more?” Ciara questioned. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro interrupted. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?” Ciara quizzed.

“Si, si. She had breast cancer,” Lazaro sympathized.

Now the same conversation from The Tropics, written another way:

“What more?” Ciara asked. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro said. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?”

“Si, si. She had breast cancer.”

Another aspect of smooth writing is that when only two characters speak, you need not identify each by name each time they say something. You also need not include any speaker attribution at all, unless the dialogue string is too long. Simply establish who spoke first, who responded, and the reader will follow along. Also, a good place to insert a few beats is in any string of dialogue where speaker attributions are not used.

This gets more complicated when you have three or more people sharing conversation. A few more speaker attributions are acceptable, and a beat both aids in showing us the characters actions and prevents a string of attributions each time a new voice is written in dialogue. Here’s another example of over-use:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said.

“Not that tight,” Ruby said.

“Guess we all had it wrong,” Denny said.

“You guys and your assumptions,” Ruby said.

Here’s a better example:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said, as he pressed a hand against the gun inside his jacket.

“Not that tight!” Ruby looked around the room, all the while feigning nonchalance and looking like any other customer in the bar.

“Guess we had it all wrong,” Denny said as he took another sip of his drink.

“You guys and your assumptions….”

In the revised example, when a speaker attribution is not included, we still know who is speaking. Using a beat makes it easy to know to whom the dialogue belongs, so leave off the attribution.

Notice, too, that “chimed in” or “quipped” or “volunteered” or “whispered” and such other attributions did not substitute for the word said. What really happened among the “saids” in the second example is that the word said receded into the background and allowed us to fully comprehend the urgency of the conversation. Because of the punctuation, we didn’t have to be told about voice inflection or any other way that the speaker spoke, which would have made us stop and visualize the action or the tenseness of the conversation.

The choice of words and punctuation in the dialogue did that for us, with the help of said, which quietly did its part, as it should. Our eyes read the important words, while said registers only subconsciously. All we need to further the action is to read on.

Attributing dialogue to certain characters need not be overdone. Proper punctuation does that for us. For example:

“You klutz!” he exclaimed.

The exclamation point tells us the remark was an exclamation and not a quiet statement or a question. It is not necessary to repeat to the reader that it he exclaimed. Readers do not like redundancy. It’s very off-putting; as if the writer is sure the reader won’t get it. In that incorrect assumption lays the erroneous motivation for writers to use attributions other than said. An experienced reader comprehends the first time through with proper punctuation.

Many writers make the mistake of thinking they can add impetus to dialogue by including many and varied attributions. This is as bad a practice as using your hands and arms in front of your face when you speak. When talking, words and intonation speak for themselves and most hand gestures, at best, are rude. So, like hand gestures, a writer may irritate a reader through redundancy.

Yet another incorrect usage of attributions has become quite common:

“I hope you like it,” she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he pointed.

“I’d like to take you home with me,” she lilted.These are unemotional sentences that do not need further modification. “Smiled,” “pointed” and “lilted” did not speak those words. Such verbs have no place as speaker attributions. Only in a few instances can said be replaced correctly. One way those sentences can be written properly, and sparingly, is given below. Notice the punctuation:

“I hope you like it,” she said as she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he said, pointing.

“I’d like to take you home with me.” Her voice was low and lilting.

Here are two last examples of incorrect punctuation and attributes that just don’t convey what they were meant to:

“Fire…,” she exclaimed.

“Fire,” she screeched.

And correctly written if we already know who is speaking:

“Fire!” he said.

Or simply…

“Fire!”

With many other places writers can get creative, speaker attributes are best left to the time-tested said, accompanied by proper punctuation in the dialogue.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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