Like many things, character motivations can make or break a story. When motivations fall flat it can be hard to connect to characters or understand their actions. Weak motivations can cause issues with other aspects, like plot and stakes. Let’s discuss issues to avoid and how to make sure your character has strong and clear motivations.
First off, when a character doesn’t know why they are doing something my interest wanes especially if this happens in the first chapter when the stakes are being set up. If a character doesn’t know, it doesn’t tell me about them or why I should care. In fact, it makes their actions feel unimportant. It’s often a big red flag when a character even thinks “I don’t know why” in regards to their actions and motivations. If they don’t understand themselves, the readers can’t understand. This makes their actions feel forced for the sake of plot. Motivations help develop characters and their role in the story. Forcing motivations for the sake of plot causes characterization and as well as motives to suffer in return. Continue reading “Character Motivations”
As an editor and a literary agency reader I read a lot of first chapters. Like A LOT. I’ve blogged about types of openings to avoid before. There are a few openings and issues I spot in first chapters all the time that instantly turn me off a book because I see them so often and they simply don’t grab my attention. I’m going to tell you some of my first chapter pet peeves and exactly why they don’t work for me.
Starting a story with a character waking up. I see this way, way too often. Usually when I see it the character is waking from a dream or their phone wakes them up in the middle of the night. This opening doesn’t work for me because A) I’ve seen it so often it has become cliche, and B) it doesn’t grab my attention. I want to get to know your characters right away. Start me with something more unique to them and their story and not something that could be used for any character. Similar to this beginning is starting with a character’s daily routine. It isn’t attention grabbing. Continue reading “First Chapter Pet Peeves”
I’ve noticed lately that I comment on a lot of the same issues when doing line edits, so I decided to make a short list of the common issues I spot while editing or reading. The issues below are tips to keep in mind when you tackle line edits. They are issues I spot and bring up with clients all the time and even sometimes spot them slipping past edits in published books. Keeping an eye out for the below will help strengthen your sentences.
Shaking Versus Nodding: When a character shakes their head, it means no. Nodding means yes. Too often characters shake heads to mean yes or nod no and it confuses the reader.
Repetitive Wording: If a character nods, it’s assumed they are nodding their head because what else are they going to nod? Same with shrugging. Stick to a concise nod or shrug instead of the longer and more repetitive, “She nodded her head.” Continue reading “Writing Mistakes at the Sentence Level”
Let me lay down some knowledge for you from my time spent in the editing trenches. I’ve worked with five plus houses, three literary agencies, and indie clients. That comes with a whole lot of editing experience. Let me tell you a secret: one editor on a book often isn’t enough and especially not if that book needs a lot of work. As an indie author it can be daunting to hire and afford more than one editor, but the end result will be so worth it. Having more than one editor means more fresh eyes to iron out issues. If you’re a a traditional author, this means you will likely work with more than one editor at your house.
Want to know how the Big 5 get their books so polished and shiny? It’s because those books often have a developmental editor and then a copy editor who also proofreads if they don’t also have a separate proofreader. This means they get an editor to focus on all the developmental issues without being sidetracked by copyedits. Then the copy editor gets to focus on copyedits without being sidetracked by developmental edits. Then finally the proofreader gets to ax any remaining issues still hiding. With all those fresh eyes focusing on one type of editing, the manuscript goes through a lot of rounds and gets put through the wringer. And to add to that many of those books were also edited by agents before going to the house. Continue reading “The Benefits of Multiple Editors”
Between the slush and my own editing I’ve seen a lot of first chapters. Dozens upon dozens upon dozens of first chapters. I often notice similar issues over and over again and find myself giving out the same advice in first chapter critiques and edits. Two of these issues specifically, a lack of stakes and a hook, I came across in a book I borrowed from the library. If you are a writer who struggles to understand issues like stakes without examples then read on because you are about to get some specific examples. I’m going to to discuss two common issues I spot in opening chapters with a few bonus problems and I’m going to be very candid with you. The book I’m using as an example is a young adult magical realism contemporary, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn.
As a warning I quit reading after the first two chapters to get some other reading done and haven’t picked the book back up yet, so I have no idea of what happens after the first two chapters (yet). On Goodreads the book only has a rating of 3.2 and a lot of reviews complaining about it being “meh” or “boring.” Many called it “strange” and “odd” despite the great concept that has a magical realism touch to it. I’m always curious to read reviews of books after I finish to see what other people thought. Let me tell you exactly why the book got reviewed as meh and boring at the start so you can avoid making the same mistake. First let me be clear this book wasn’t rated low because the writing or story is bad, the book just needs some more reworking and polishing to have a wider appeal and the issues I’ve brought up are ones I see all the time, which is why I wanted to make this post. I find it hard to discuss common issues without examples, and this book provides some perfect examples for me to discuss. Continue reading “When Opening Chapters Have No Teeth”
Some editors are also writers while others are happier to stay on the editing side and find they don’t enjoy writing or have the chops for it. And that’s totally okay. It’s just like how some agents write, but others prefer to focus on championing and selling books rather than writing them. However, I’m an editor who also writes. For me writing came before editing and inspired me to try out a career in editing. Pair them both with my love of books and I can’t let either one go.
I find that writing helps with my editing and vice versa. I think you can’t truly understand what authors go through when they get their revision letters or edits unless you’ve been in the same spot. Edit letters can be scary, especially when you are a new author not used to getting revision feedback. It can be overwhelming to see all the fixes and changes your book needs and it can be easy to feel like you’re writing isn’t good enough when you see your manuscript all marked up. By writing and getting revision feedback, I put myself in the same shoes as the authors I edit, and I go through all those tough emotions that so many authors have to work through when they get an edit letter. Going through it myself helps me to have a sympathetic understanding of what my authors are going through when we begin edits. Continue reading “The Writing Editor”
Meet writer Judi Lauren. She’s also a Pitch Wars mentor and an assistant to Lydia Sharp at Entangled Publishing.
What made you decide you wanted to write YA? Did any other authors influence you?
I started writing as a teen. My first book (so cringe-worthy) was written when I was thirteen. Back when floppy A disks were popular. I guess I never quite grew out of writing in that genre—and it’s such an interesting time of life! My teen years were a total mess, so writing about those years has always been easy for me. As far as influential authors: J.K. Rowling, S.E. Hinton, Sara Zarr, David Klass, and Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I read at least one book by each one of them when I was a teen and they heavily changed the course of my writing. I also have to mention Barry Lyga, whose I Hunt Killers I discovered when I was twenty made me realize dark books were what I really wanted to write. Continue reading “Meet an Author: Judi Lauren”