You might have fixed up all of the plot holes and really exposed the raw heart of the character conflict, but literary agents aren’t going to make it off the first page if your manuscript is full off grammatical typos.
How to Format Dialogue
Trickier than it seems, young cricket.
- When to use commas and periods
- How to properly tag dialogue (he said/she said as opposed to he laughed [spoiler: you can’t laugh a whole sentence.])
- How to have quotes inside of quotes
- How to interrupt dialogue (I’m a fan of the em-dash, end quote)
- How to extend dialogue past a paragraph’s end
- How to balance dialogue with narration
- How to use dialogue for exposition
How to Spell and Use Proper Grammar
This one seems like a gimme, but you’d be surprised. Very surprised.
- Know the difference between the trouble words.
- If you need to rely on spell-check for every other sentence, you’d better know if spell check is doing its job right.
- Know when fragmented sentences are stylistic as opposed to a mistake.
- Using a thesaurus is an art, not a sport.
- Make sure your book is as good as you’re able to get it. An agent and editor’s job is to refine and publish something their passionate about, not to make something adequate good enough.
Balancing Narrative, Exposition, Dialogue, and Description
This is when taking a class on Creative Writing comes in handy.
- Know how to balance scene and summary. (Quick tip: Scene = The fidgety man ran down 5th ave, across a market, crashed into a wall, and accidentally punched a 38-year-old, sunburned Russian, all while yelling, “Stella!” Summary = He chased Stella down the streets. From (in)experience, I can tell you that if you write a whole book of just scenes, you’ll only cover a day or so of time.)
- All that scaffolding you did in the first chapter? Cut it out. Incorporate world-building into scenes and dialogue instead. If I read a first chapter and it feels like the beginning of a movie is being narrated instead of unfolding naturally, then something is off.
- Transition properly between scenes, summaries, time jumps, and chapters. This is something that I’m still working on, but it’s vital. You don’t want readers to feel jerked around through a story. You want flow, compelling action, and believable surprises.
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
This covers everything from plot holes to character descriptions.
- Keep your characters straight. If your MC hates dresses, you’d better give her a darn good reason for going to a high society party when she loathes lace.
- Making character sketches is a good way to keep track of which characters have what color hair, who owns which jacket, and what color eyes the love interest will be gazing into with all the adoration of a puppy for bacon. Aka, don’t forget characters for 20 chapters.
- Research! If they’re travelling 100 miles by horse, you’d better know how long that takes and how often the horse needs to stop for food and rest.
- Basically, make sure nothing feels off to readers, because readers will be your biggest fans and your biggest critics.
Be Able to Describe Your Book
In about three sentences or less. Describe your book in two sentences to someone who doesn’t know you’re the one that wrote it. If they seem interested, they might just be acting polite, or you might have a good premise!
In those three sentences, describe:
- WHO your character
- WHY this character is compelling/original/interesting
- WHAT your character is after
- WHAT are the stakes? Life and death? War? Time?
- WHO/WHAT stands in your character’s way