Recently, I’ve been binge-reading a bunch of manuscripts by authors seeking publication (that’s all of us, right?) They’re all very well written, but some of them stand out, and others do not.
So I took the opportunity to study this—because we all want our manuscripts to stand out when they reach the editor’s desk. The reasons why some of them do stand out didn’t become apparent to me until I noticed that certain elements of the sparkling manuscripts were missing from the rest.
Here are 5 things I’ve noticed so far. Manuscripts that sparkle and stand out…
1. …use sensory detail. As a reader, I want to go on the journey with the characters. I want to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell all the things that they notice. Not only does this help to make the setting feel real, but also the characters.
2. …have characters who feel real. What the characters look like doesn’t matter nearly as much as what they are feeling, or how they act, or why they choose to act in the way they do. They’re active characters rather than passive. They actually do something—and it’s interesting—rather than talking about it.
3. …have lots of conflict. Once we readers care about a character, we really care when trouble comes knocking. We are rooting for the character, and we want him/her to solve whatever problem crops up. But will he/she solve it in time?
4. …have twists and turns and surprises. We talked about this last month when Mysteristas explored the “twist” theme. And it’s so true! Readers want to be surprised. We don’t want the expected answer. We want new and marvelous adventures that we haven’t been able to predict.
5. …have a nice balance of pacing. Sometimes the action is fast, when exciting events are happening. And sometimes the action is slow, when the characters are introspective so that the reader gets to understand why they are doing the things they are doing. It’s not all of either one, but some of both, and they need to be balanced.
This is just the beginning, and I’d love to see more thoughts. But here’s the bottom line: even the most brilliantly luminous story ideas are gonna fizzle without that sparkle.