A few years ago I went to a seminar at our
local writers' centre. The speakers at the seminar
included two publishers and an agent. When asked what
they were looking for in a manuscript, one of the
publishers answered: sparkle.
So how do you make your writing sparkle?
Pace can be considered the speed of a scene or the entire
Does your story flow smoothly? Does it get bogged down in
places? Is it fast-paced? Is the importance of some
scenes lost because they're too fast? Is your novel too
slow and laborious? Is a scene too long, thus losing it's
Short sentences are good for creating tension. In other
words, when you want to show characters in conflict make
their dialogue short and terse.
"I hate you!" snapped Katie.
"I'm sorry," said Paul.
"No, you're not!"
"I didn't mean it."
Short sentences can create a sense of urgency, drama.
But short sentences can become monotonous. Consider this
sentence. Then this one. Here's the next. And one more.
This is fun. I'm having fun. Maybe you're not. Come with
me. Please play along. Okay, it isn't usual to have a
paragraph of three-word sentences. I'm just making a
point. Now you can see how paragraphs with short, medium
and long sentences are a nice blend.
Longer sentences can slow the story down and give readers
a break from all the action and drama.
Remove Unnecessary Words (Clutter)
Many writers feel a need to repeat information, usually
in a slightly different way, to empathize their meaning.
You shouldn't need to say almost the same thing again to
reinforce your message and make sure the reader
understands. If they didn't get your point the first time
then you may need to rewrite the original sentence.
Many writers also have a tendency to repeat favourite
words or over use a word in a paragraph or page.
I wrote a story featuring a treasure map. As I read
through one page of the manuscript, I realized that I'd
used "treasure map" too many times - it started
to become annoying. I had to find alternatives.
It's important to keep the reader with you. Sometimes
I've been enjoying a good book and had to stop to reread
a sentence or paragraph because it wasn't clear to me.
Having to reread sections ruins my escapism and reminds
me that I'm reading a book. Suddenly I'm dragged out of
the story and lost the connection with the characters.
Adding words like "very", "extremely"
and "really" weaken a sentence and its meaning.
There are usually better alternatives. It's a matter of
finding the best word or phrase to do the job.
Consider - Jane was very angry.
Substitute - Jane was furious.
Consider - I was really cold.
Subsitute - I was freezing.
Or better still - I couldn't stop shivering. (Show Don't
Adjectives and Adverbs
Some adjectives and adverbs are fine but, again, it's a
case of choosing the right word to do the job. Adjectives
and adverbs can weaken a sentence and meaning.
Consider - Kim walked angrily to the bedroom.
Substitute - Kim stomped to the bedroom.
Because I'm given information in a book I believe that it
must be important to the plot or characterization. The
same goes for TV shows and movies. So when I read on and
realize that the information has no relevance, I'm
disappointed and confused. Why was I given this
The best way to insert necessary information - relevant
to the plot - is to look like you're not inserting
necessary information. In other words, work it into the
story as naturally and subtly as possible. Let the
readers know these important details in small doses,
rather than bucketloads. Sprinkle!
Tim didnt need his fifteen year-old sister to look
after him. Hed be twelve in two months. Old enough
to look after himself.
I've added to characterization. My readers know the age
of the characters. It also moves the plot along because
Tim's sister doesn't do a good job of looking after him
and he has to fend for himself.
Remember that people read for the story. The story is
vital. Keep it moving.
Early in my writing career I was given a good piece of
advice: establish the setting at the beginning of each
chapter. The reason for this is that chapters often mean
a transition in time and/or place. To avoid confusion,
your readers should know the where and when as soon as
Keep transitions short. Keep the story moving.
looked down at his bandaged body. Walking might be
easier, he decided.
indicated by double-spaced line)
minutes later, Tim was almost in the centre of town.
Jumping from one person's head to another can be
confusing for readers, especially younger children. Books
for younger children usually stick to one viewpoint.
In books for older children, multiple viewpoints are
fine. Chapter breaks are often used to indicate a change
Your story should always sound as if it's written from
the point of view of a child. Never sound like an adult.
Children want to read about their peers. And they
definitely don't want to be preached to or lectured at.
One of the things I do when editing a novel is look at
the last page of each chapter. Do the final scenes or
sentences inspire the reader to keep reading? Will the
reader want to turn the page?
You don't have to end each chapter with a cliffhanger.
But you do need to consider each chapter ending and make
sure it teases the reader or rouses their curiosity so
that they have to continue reading your book. Leave them
wanting to know more.
Something should be happening at the end of each chapter.
More questions should be raised. Don't finish a chapter
at a quiet spot in the story, where nothing is happening.
Keep the reader curious. Make them turn the page.
Your story should be plausible, believable. Your
character's motivation should make sense to your readers.
They should be able to understand why a character wants a
particular goal. The obstacles between the character and
his or her goal should be believable, expected in a way.
And your character's actions should always be consistent
given their background, personality and feelings.
Even fantasy needs be logical. Your readers should be
able to believe that the events in your story are
possible given the world you've created.
Consider the way your sentences are written. Do they make
Beware of dangling modifiers.
For example: "Having been thrown into the air, the dog caught
In this sentence, the subject (the dog) is the
'doer' of the main clause - or action - (caught the
ball). In the modifing part of this sentence (having
been thrown into the air) the 'doer' of the main
clause is not clearly stated. It does not directly relate
to the subject of the main clause, and so, it would be
considered a dangling modifier.
A good sentence can be weakened by the last word. A
strong sentence should end on a strong word, not tail off
because of poor word choice.
Consider - It was a mystery where the children were.
Substitute - Where the children were was a mystery.
And remember that the most important words of a sentence
should go at the end. The most important sentence should
go at the end of a paragraph.
If you want to emphasize something put it at the end of
Show Don't Tell
Showing pulls readers into a story. It allows them to see
scenes unfolding as if they're there, like a fly on the
Showing allows readers to relate to your character, to
see the character's world through his or her eyes. And
soon your readers are empathizing and sympathizing with
the character. They're experiencing what the character is
Showing is a great way to add to characterization without
looking like you're adding to characterization.
Telling distances your readers. You've told them exactly
what happened and why. It doesn't allow them to get
involved, to make their own judgements.
For example (showing):
Tim held up his hands. No more.
Come on, were having fun.
Yeah, right, thought Tim. She was having fun. He was
I'm showing you here that Tim is not happy.
Spelling, Punctuation, Typos
This one seems pretty obvious.
Do you best to eliminate any spelling, punctuation and
typing errors from your manuscript before you sent it to
a publisher. Otherwise you'll look like an amateur.
You'll look careless and sloppy.
Your manuscript should be your best possible work to
attract the attention of a publisher. It should sparkle!
"Don't say you don't
have enough time. You have exactly the same
number of hours per day that were given to
Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother
Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson,
and Albert Einstein." H. Jackson Brown