Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ask O: How Do I Give My Manuscript that Special Zing?

Happy Wednesday my writing friends,

You’ve read the writing blogs. Followed the gurus’ advice on creating multi-layered characters, enticing plot twists, powerful prose, but your manuscripts still skulk down the walk of rejection back to your inbox. “Ugh!” you lament, “What am I doing wrong?”

Of course, many reasons could exist for the rejection. However, in my experience, I've noticed a consistent missing element in the unpublished manuscripts clogging my computer files.


“Yeah, yeah,” you say. “I’ve heard that before.”

But! I don’t necessarily mean character emotion. You can zip over to any number of blogs to learn about that. I’m talking about Author Emotion. I’ve found when a manuscript of mine falls flat, even when all the parts sparkle, it’s because
I’m holding back, I don’t care quite enough.

So, what does this desperate author do about this?

It’s not easy. And it’s not simple. But I have to let go.

I often keep myself locked up, separate from my characters. I think of them as other people I’m telling a story about. And this is wrong. They aren’t other people. They aren’t friends, family members, or even loved ones—they are me. And I have to eject myself out of my safe zone and plunge into their feelings. I mean seriously experience the loss of her loved one, or his agony of living without friends, or her gratitude over saving her baby's life. Not conjecture how it could feel. Or merely rely on a Googled psychological study about the effects of abandonment. It’s not even going through the emotional journey with my hero, it’s being my hero.

Can you see why this is terrifying? We all know the first rule of writing fiction is to be mean to our characters. I heap layer upon layer of broken relationships, lost jobs, failed goals, physical pain, death, and more on them. And for the story to have that extra zing it must feel true. In a way, it must be true. True emotions coming from the depths of my soul.

I’ve learned to dig deep down. As far as I can go. I sob, I laugh, in my first draft I write outlandishly and as close to the edge as I can bear. This seems to help transform my writing from good to excellent, from flat to full of life. It’s painful and exhausting, but no one ever said writing would be easy.

I challenge you to try this. Let go of your pre-conceived boundaries. Forget about the rules—at least for one draft—and let your emotions explode on the page. Then tell me if your writing zings. I’d love to know.

God bless you and happy writing!



  1. Excellent article, O. Great advice all around, but I especially liked "writing as close to the edge as I can bear" on that first draft. Appreciate your wisdom! And timely as I rework my first draft this week. :D Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Net. I'm glad you liked it. I know it took me a while to really "get" this concept, but it made a huge difference.

  3. Interesting premise ... just let all that pent up emotion go, eh?

  4. Such sound advice! I do believe you have to let go and bleed on the page:) When I write, I actually have to become my heroine and fall for my hero in order to make it work/sing. As for all that sometimes messy emotion, I am always looking out for melodrama which I hate! It's that cheesy stuff that makes me cringe, that forced emotion. There's a big difference and I try to stamp that out when I find it. And pray I do! You're right - it's painful and exhausting to write full bore - but it makes the writing so much richer and more real. Thanks for such a passionate post:)

  5. Great post and thanks to Laura for posting it on FB. So true. If we don't hurt or laugh or blush along with our characters, how can it come through those words. Obviously it has worked for Laura!

    Writing should wear us out (espesh we introverts).

    Funny...Ocieanna, your name came up in discussion today. It's all good.

  6. Thanks Laura. Great point about not being cheesy. I think when we stay distant and sort of guess at the characters' emotions, they can become melodramatic, but when we as authors feel it ourselves, the real guts come out. Good thoughts!

  7. Thanks to Laura for sharing this link. Great advice. Exactly what I need for the sagging middle I'm in right now.


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