by Sandra Judd, Book Editor
- The Slow Start: You generally have approximately ten pages to hook your reader (and often more like three), whether that reader is an agent or editor or your audience. If you do not get into the conflict and the tension of the plot within those first ten pages, your reader will likely move on. If background information is needed, that should be worked into the story as you move along, not stacked at the beginning of the story like an obstacle that the reader needs to overcome before he or she can begin the real meat of the plot. Jump right into your story, grab your reader, and let everything else flow from there.
- Overly Complicated Plot: As you planned out your novel, you likely had many different ideas about ways that the plot could go. However, not every one of those ideas needs to be included in the final product. Too many overlapping story lines muddle the plot and confuse and exhaust the reader. Once you have outlined your story, you need to go back and evaluate each individual story line. Include only those that are necessary to drive the plot forward. Then make sure that you follow each of those story lines through to completion. If you find that you begin a story line, but never quite get back to it, that is a clue that the story line is extraneous and should be eliminated. Streamline your plot whenever possible and end product will be a stronger novel.
- Drifting Point of View: Before you begin writing your novel, you need to decide from whose point of view the story will be told. This will be vital to the way you approach the rest of the writing. Once you make this decision, you need to follow it through, consistently describing each scene through that character’s (or narrator’s) eyes. While it is possible (and fairly common) to tell a story through alternating viewpoints, this needs to be carefully planned and executed, and done for a defined purpose, with each viewpoint clearly delineated. You do not want to randomly drift back and forth between the characters’ viewpoints within a single scene, as this will result only in confusion for the reader. Define your point of view from the start, imagine each scene through that character’s eyes, and be consistent with it.
- Wooden Dialogue: Dialogue between your characters should sound just as if you are speaking it. Accents and dialects should be used consistently, not come and go, and the words themselves should flow easily off the tongue. Exposition in dialogue should be held to a minimum. The maxim “Show, don’t tell” holds true here. Read your dialogue aloud. This should give you a feel for whether it sounds natural or forced. Rework it until it rolls off the tongue easily.
- The Missing Ending: Once you have hooked your reader, you want to provide a satisfying finish to your book, not leave them frustrated. Build your plot and your tension carefully, leading up to a final climax, and be sure to provide some resolution. Your end goal should be completion of the story, tying up all of the various plot lines, not simply a word count. Begin your story with your ending in mind, keep that ending always in sight, and do not stop until you have reached that point, and satisfied readers will be the result.
Sandra J. Judd
About the author
SANDRA JUDD has edited or proofread over 300 published books, on topics that include politics, history, business, literary criticism, ethnic history, anthropology, science and medicine, industry manuals, memoirs, Christian and inspirational, parenting and relationships, humor, and fiction (additional topics/genres below). Her clients have included university presses, large, mainstream publishers, and smaller presses and professional organizations. She has edited 20+ volumes in the Health Reference Series published by Omnigraphics, all published under her name as editor. She has also edited professional journals and newsletters, business plans, scholarly articles being prepared for publication, economic plans to be distributed to the state legislature, and a number of dissertations.
She has prepared indexes for more than 30 published books.