Why Wasn't I Chosen?: An Open Edit Letter (Part VI)
Dear Swoon Readers,
We are SO excited to announce our next Swoon Reads list, and
as the newest edition to Team Swoon Reads, I’m thrilled about our latest batch
of authors. I had studied up on Swoon Reads before I started here in June, but
I didn’t know quite what to expect from the site’s submissions. I was
completely blown away by the limitless imaginations and incredible writing
chops in the manuscripts on the site, and it was really hard to choose which
manuscripts we would publish from this top-notch batch of contenders.
Why didn’t some manuscripts
make the cut? I’ve written up some of the reasons below. If your manuscript
falls into any of these categories, we recommend buying yourself a fresh red
pen and seeing what can be improved. And keep submitting! (Fun Fact: 3 out of
our 4 new Swoon Reads authors had submitted previous manuscripts to Swoon Reads
and tried again. Don’t give up!)
Too Much Happening
You need things to happen in your manuscript, but if you try to incorporate a lot of plot elements, it’s difficult to manage. You need to balance character development, voice, dialogue, and themes along with your plot, and that’s hard to do if too many different things are happening. What’s the central plot in your novel? What drives the story forward? If you can’t identify that, take a good hard look at your story and see what plot elements can be stripped away. You can have a lot of different conflicts in your story, but if they all have equal weight, take a look at what plot elements can be brought to the foreground and what can take a more secondary role. Zoom in on the plot elements that are essential for a complete and compelling story, and focus the rest of your energy on developing strong characters and a voice that jumps off the page.
Not Enough Happening
So, you need to watch out for including too much plot. Ok, that seems easy enough. Now for the curve ball—you also need to make sure you have enough plot. We know, it’s a tricky balance to pull off, but you can do it! It’s really important that the plot has a clear forward momentum as the story progresses. Voice and character development are really important, but these elements aren’t enough to sustain an entire book-length manuscript or to deliver a satisfying experience to the reader. If someone asked you to describe what happens in your book, would you have a clear, paragraph-long synopsis that lays out the plot, or would you describe it as “a meditation on life as an American teenager”? If it’s the latter, consider adding more plot to hook the reader and keep the story moving forward.
Dual POV Problems
It’s fun to write two points of view, and it’s definitely a popular technique in young adult and new adult novels. But do you need two points of view? Ask yourself a few questions before you dive into a dual POV story. How will the two POVs sound different? What does the second POV add that can’t be accomplished in one POV? Are both POVS equally compelling and interesting to read? If you take the time to examine why you’re writing in dual POV, you may discover that you can tell your story more effectively in one POV. Don’t feel like you have to write dual POV just because so many other authors do it; the best path for your manuscript is the one that will tell the story most effectively.
Every novel has a dose of fantasy in it, and that’s the fun part about writing fiction. You get to create the world that these characters live in, and the world is as big as your imagination. At the same time, every book—even fantasy and sci-fi novels!—need a dose of reality to be believable and relatable to your readers. When you put your character in totally unbelievable circumstances, it’s easy to lose your reader’s attention and trust. For example, in the world of YA, it’s believable for a girl to pose as a princess and get absorbed into a royal court, but it wouldn’t be believable for her to then stand up at court and say “I AM NOT A PRINCESS, GUYS! FOOLED YA!” No matter if you’re writing a contemporary realistic novel or an epic fantasy, the characters have to behave in a way that makes sense for the circumstances they’re in.
Every book has its own individual tone. That tone may be funny and irreverent with a strong dose of melancholy like in John Green’s The Fault in our Stars), or it may be honest and realistic like in Karole Cozzo’s How to Keep Rolling After the Fall. Even as your characters grow and change, the tone you set for your book has to remain consistent. Is your book a laugh-a-minute comic romp that’s guaranteed to have your readers rolling on the floor? That’s great! But if you switch it up in the second half and set a tone that makes your readers sad and anxious, we’ve got trouble (right here in River City! With a capital T and that stands for TONE!). That doesn’t mean that your book has to be only funny or sad and not both! It just means that if the book is funny and sad, it should be both funny and sad from the first page, not funny in the first half and sad in the second.
Know Your Audience
Young adult novels can be about so many different things, from magical fairies to sexy aliens to hot boys next door, and there are numerous genres to choose for your YA novel. Ultimately, no matter what genre you choose, it’s important to address a subject that will appeal to a teen reader. For example, setting a fantasy novel at a prestigious boarding school for talented teenagers? That’s a great place for a YA novel to take place (and it worked for J.K. Rowling, so maybe it’ll work for you!). But if you take that setting and have the plot hinge on a teacher who’s trying to figure out why so many students are failing her tests, you’ve lost your audience by choosing a topic that won’t attract teen readers. The plot needs to be accessible and interesting, so make sure that you’re writing about something relevant to your readers’ lives.
If you include magic in your novel, the magic has to make sense. Wait. What? It’s magic. Magic doesn’t have to follow rules! That’s what makes it magic. Reality check—even magic has to play by the rules. The rules that you establish. Holly says it best on the blog: “If magic is a mystery to the hero/heroine of your story, then it can be mysterious to the reader as well. But the important thing is to make sure that your readers can follow along and understand your story, and that you don’t accidentally lose them by making some strange magical leap.” If you’re going to include magic, make sure that you have a clear sense of how your brand of magic works, and keep it consistent so that your reader can follow along. For more great advice on this topic, check out Holly’s blog posts here and here.
Secondary Characters Stealing the Spotlight
Secondary characters are a lot of fun to write, and they can add some great color and depth to your manuscript. But when secondary characters start to creep into the territory of the main characters, beware! These characters can draw focus away from the protagonist and their individual character development, which is crucial to a great story. Secondary characters that move too far into the spotlight can also distract from important plot points and slow down the overall pace of the story. Your secondary characters should be well-rounded, but make sure they don’t draw attention from the crucial elements of your story that need to really grab the reader.
Character Introduction Timing
We don’t need to meet all of your main characters on the first page. It’s always best to avoid an “info dump” in the first few pages, and that includes avoiding introducing all of your main characters in one big dose. However, if you have characters that are going to play a big part in your novel, we need to meet them before we get halfway through the manuscript, or else you’re going to be left with one very confused reader. You can take your time developing this character and uncovering who they really are, but we do need to meet all of the main characters in the first few chapters so we know which characters are going to be key players in the chapters to follow. Your reader needs to know what to focus on in your manuscript, and letting them meet the main characters early is integral in allowing the reader to hone in on what’s important early in the manuscript.
Now that you have a few
more things to think about, we encourage you to take a look at your story and
see what can be can be improved. Every
story can be made better. We believe in you!
Earlier Open Edit Letters can be found through the following links: