I see a lot of stories that start out showing potential–more than potential, in fact; I’m intrigued. The first page is a doozy, it’s grabbed me with some awesome action, or intrigued me with a hint of some mystery or conflict to come, and I can’t wait to read more. (These are the kinds of submissions I like to see, BTW). And then all of a sudden, I get to page 40, and things begin to unravel. The rate of unravelling varies from story to story. Sometimes, by page 45, I’m ready to throw in the towel; sometimes, it takes a little longer–maybe to page 100 or 150. . .and I can tell you, it’s devastating.
Rejecting a manuscript is the worst thing I have to do as an editor. I know authors have worked long and hard on their manuscripts, and they have a dream that my rejection is going to shoot down. But, I also have a responsibilty to the authors I do contract and to readers who purchase White Rose Publishing books, to uphold a strong standard, so when stories fall apart, I have no choice but to say no.
So, today I’m here to say, make sure your stories don’t fall apart. Easier said than done, I know. The problem is, I think, that those first three chapters–50 pages, or so–get edited, and edited, and edited. Every time an editor requests them, the author makes one more run-through before sending it in. Crit partners go over them. Family members take one last look. But chapters four through the end get edited twice or thrice.
We need not to ignore the middle. This is where plots need the extra attention. Look at the conflicts that have been established early on. Do they sustain through the middle with a heightened degree of emotion? If so, great! If not, figure out a secondary conflict to introduce partway through so that the middle progresses, climbs to the ultimate point of no return.
Look at dialogue. Are we filling our characters’ mouths with fluff just to get to the point where our climax is going to happen and we know the reader is going to finally say, “Wow”? If so, silence those characters and think of something worthwhile for them to say. Dialogue needs to drive the plot forward, not merely act as a bridge to get us from point A to point B. It needs to create or ease tension, initiate understanding or misunderstanding, eliminate clues or create red herrings. All dialogue should have a purpose that moves the characters forward.
Look at interior dialogue. Are our characters repeating sentiments that we’ve heard so many times over the past 100 pages that hearing them one more time makes us want to take the mallet out of the author’s hand and put it to our own heads? If so, cut it. If the story becomes too short later, find better ways to add to word count. Don’t fluff the middle, fortify it with substance. Interior dialogue needs to show that our characters are growing and changing. They had a problem at the beginning of the book, and that problem may not yet be solved, but our characters should have learned something over the course of the opening chapters that help him/her to grow or to find a workable solution.
If you look at a scene and can’t see its purpose, the scene doesn’t need to be there. Cut it. It may hurt, but think of it as the refining fire. Once all the impurities are stripped away, the story will shine with a brilliance that will dazzle editors and readers alike.