Tuesday, 2 March 2010

10 Ways to Make Your Work Exceptional

1. Page one needs to have something extra, something that will make the reader want to read on. It could be a plot hook or an intriguing premise, an appealing setting or fabulous writing. Whatever it is, make sure it's there.

2. And you need the same on page 2, 3, 4, 5....I see a fair amount of student work that is perfectly fine, just doesn't have that extra pzazz. Look for opportunities where you could add it. It may sound OTT but I go through my mss with a highlighter pen marking bits (phrases, metaphors, nifty dialogue, cunning transitions, description etc) I think add something extra. My minimum is 5 per page.

3. I also see a lot of student work that lacks edge or tension. Don't let things come easily to your characters, make them work for it. And don't let things come easily to the readers either. Only give readers information at the very last moment they need it. Keep 'em guessing, keep 'em waiting.

4. Characters without flaws are dull. Characters who complain are tedious. Characters who are nice are zzzzzzz.

5. All stories have been done before, it's how you write them that counts. Above all, keep them moving forwards, don't let them sag especially round the middle.

6. Pace. It's the contrast that makes it interesting. All fast pace is as dull as motorway driving especially compared with driving at 30mph on a housing estate with lots of free range children. Go fast, go slow, go fast again. Don't let the reader ever feel secure with your pacing.

You're probably bored with this one, but make sure your work is 100% mistake free. Check all spellings, grammar, sentence structure esp if you've done a lot of editing.

8. Also boring but essential, make sure the presentation is perfect.

9. Story, story, story. Beautiful writing is lovely to read, but without story telling it gets dull very quickly. What's going to happen next? How is this going to be resolved?

10. Confidence. This is a hard one to define, but it's the quality that makes you utterly believe that the author is in charge and knows exactly what's happening, how it's going to turn out. As a reader you happily let go and hand it over to the story teller to take you on a magical experience. I think confidence comes from re-writing and re-writing. If you don't believe, how can you expect anyone else to?


Lizzie said...

Thanks for this post (and yesterdays), Sarah.

When I get home I shall print out chapter one and steal your highlighter idea – it'll be an interesting exercise to see whether I do have bits that add something extra.

Have you done a post on the dreaded synopsis?

Sarah Duncan said...

It can be a worrying exercise when you find there's nothing worth highlighting on the page - but Hurrah! you can then fix it.

I did 3 posts on the dreaded synopsis at the end of November called Torture for Writers part I, II & III. Good luck, and hope your pain threshold is high...

Debs said...

Thanks for these useful points, Sarah.

Sarah Duncan said...

You're welcome Debs