Where to Start

As a reader, no matter what I’m reading – a children’s book or a book for adults – I always enjoy the books that start right in the middle of the action. It’s exciting! It makes me keep reading to find out who the characters are and what is happening to them. Yet as a writer, I sometimes feel the need to “set up” the character and setting first.

Excerpt from Writing a Children’s Book: How to Write for Children And Get Published by Pamela Cleaver.

Begin at the moment of change or crisis in the key character’s life. Don’t start with an explanation with his circumstances, or a description of where he lives. If you feel you need scene setting or character establishment to get you going, write it for yourself and go on until you reach an action point. This is where your story should start:

  • Start where the trouble begins.
  • Start on the day that is different.
  • Start where the main character comes up against something he can’t stand.

Don’t discard the previous material but feed it into the narrative as snippets as the story unfolds.

This is simple advice. Yet I feel that it’s the perfect way to find the best starting point for your story. I now know that I have to rethink the beginning of Cat’s Eyes.

I found this advice by using Google Book Search.

Burn It, Bury It, Let It Live

Sometimes, especially when we first start writing, we reach a point where we no longer like or want to work on the story at hand. Usually as we grow as a writer, we can see the errors we’ve previously made and that “spoils” the story altogether.

It’s possible that we might rewrite the manuscript entirely, but even then we are not satisfied, we are not happy. What do we do?

Making a decision like this is difficult. We might regret the decision later, so we must be careful in what we do today.

Holly Lisle’s Burn It, Bury It, Let It Live might help you make that decision. Answer the questions and see how you fair. However, remember, once you burn it you can’t get it back. So be careful you don’t rush into anything.

Why do we edit?

Editing means that we try to make our story as flowing and reader friendly as possible. It means that we take away the confusion of awkward sentences, bad grammar and spelling and allow our readers to enjoy the story. Constant mistakes will distract the reader and eventually they will focus on how terrible we write, instead of the plot. No writer wants this, so editing is essential.

The first thing we must do is read the entire manuscript through, just like we read any other book. As we read, we should use a red pen to mark problem areas – confusion, something missing, waffling, point of view shifts, format problems etc. Don’t stop to fix them yet, because that will stop the flow. Just mark the area and keep reading. If it doesn’t sound right to you, the author, then it’s going to sound even worse to the reader.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

1. Is the style and voice consistent?
2. Do I use the best word possible in every single sentence?
3. Is the flow smooth?
4. Do I use proper sentences?
5. Is the point of view consistent?
6. Am I using passive sentences?
7. Are the events in the right order?
8. Do I have plot holes?
9. Are my characters realistic and growing?
10. Does every scene move the story forward?
11. Is the dialogue natural?
12. Is there enough description, without going over the top?
13. Is the title appropriate?
14. Is the opening sentence catchy?
15. Will the resolution leave the reader satisfied?

Now work through the manuscript again (is it any wonder we end up hating the story?), and this time, fix the errors. Take your time. Be careful, don’t trust your spell checker, so watch for words that sound alike, ie their/there/they’re. And don’t be afraid to cut huge chunks of writing, even if it is your favourite part of the story. If it doesn’t move the story along, delete it.

When you’ve finished, you should have a polished manuscript. However, if you’re like me, you won’t be able to rest until you read the entire manuscript again, and hope with all your heart that you don’t find any errors. If you do…you know what needs to be done!

What's the Point Anyway?

What’s the point of a scene? There’s only one answer to this question – each scene moves the story along. So if you’re writing scenes that don’t move the story along, then you’re wasting your time. Those scenes need to be deleted, no exceptions.

With my latest project, I’ve found myself asking “so what’s the point of this scene anyway” and if I don’t know the answer then I’m heading in the wrong direction. Luckily, I haven’t had many of these dead ends (only one in fact) but it’s important to remember that each and every scene must have a purpose.

Sometimes it’s difficult to delete a scene, especially one that is worded just right but leaving it in isn’t going to do yourself or your manuscript any favours. You must learn when to cut and then do it.

So, one more time, each and every scene must have a purpose and must move the story along. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

Editorial Process

As I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing this yet, I turned to Australian author, Sara Douglass, to find out about The Editorial Process.

Reading the procedure brings up a few emotions–excitement and fear being among them. Why the fear? Simply put, can I handle the pressure? Can I meet the deadlines, and in doing so…can I produce the goods? I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Now to go slightly off topic. I feel writing is like stepping stones across a pool of water (I’m sure I read that somewhere once). As we progress across the pool, we are learning all the things we need for when we reach the other side.

Personally, I feel that I’ve passed the half way mark. My thinking has changed, my knowledge is growing, and mentally I’m ready to step across the uncertain water to a stone that is closer to the finish.

My advice to those who are standing on stepping stones at the beginning of the journey, is to not doubt yourself, to listen when someone is willing to talk about your work, and not to take those comments personally. The only way to learn and grow, is to find out what is wrong with your stories. Hearing “I like it” is good but not helpful. Hearing “I like it but if the characters were developed more it would be better” is harder to hear, but is showing you the way to the next stepping stone. Listen and learn, it’s a necessity if you plan to reach the other side.

Writing Every Day

This is something I just wrote in an email to a friend.

Some writers dream about it…while others do it.

What is meant by this statement is that a lot of people dream about writing, think about writing and plan what they are going to write, but they never actually write. And they never finish a manuscript when they start one.

Other people just write. They write everyday. It doesn’t matter if it’s 500 words or 10,000, they write. By doing the work, they will achieve a result.

Which category do you fall into? Are you a dreamer, or a doer?

Finding Good Test Readers

I believe that although having your family and friends read your work could sometimes be useful, most of the time it’s not. As a writer we need constructive criticism and our family and friends are not usually able to give it.

This isn’t always true, of course, and if you have someone close to you who will read your work objectively and give comments that will help you improve your work – well, my advice is to go with it and let them.

This is not usually what happens though. Have you ever let someone read one of your stories and they come back to you and ask: “Was that character based on Joe, because he wouldn’t act like that? You must have misunderstood something he said.” That is so frustrating. There might be one action that Joe does which you included in your story and instantly someone picks up on it and thinks you’re living out your problems through your writing. They don’t seem to realise that the character may have a characteristic of Joe but is NOT Joe!

Also, your family and friends don’t know what to look for, in your writing, to improve it. Yes, they can tell you if it’s readable or not and that is the first step but after that you need to know if you’ve got grammar problems, plot holes or inconsistencies.

So what do you do?

It’s hard to know exactly because you must remember that not everyone can be trusted and you certainly don’t want someone else stealing your idea. So talk to other writers (who you trust) and find out if they can recommend a writers group that will help you turn your draft manuscript into a polished manuscript that can be sent to an agent or publisher.

You can also join a message board that has a protected area where you can share your work with the other members yet no one else can view/steal your story. Remember, it’s common curtesy to return the favour too. If you are receiving good critiques on your work, you should endeavour to do the same thing for other people. In fact, doing this often changes your view of writing and this will help you see your own work through fresh eyes.

There are a lot of resources on the Internet which will be very helpful. Some critique groups expect you to critique three other stories to get a critique in return. Others allow their members to critique the stories they are interested in, only when they have the time. Yet there are groups where members seem to love to “flame” other members – these groups should be given a wide birth. No one should ever flame another person’s work – NEVER!! There is good and bad in all of our work and both of these things should be pointed out in a friendly helpful manner.

Word Count

This is an issue that haunts most aspiring writers. Most word processors are equipped with a word count feature, but this is NOT the way to do it. Even though using this feature will give you the actual word count used, the printing industry works it out differently.

If you look at any two pages in a novel and then counted the actual words on those pages, you’d get a varying answer. It stands to reason that most pages will be different so the printing industry uses a formula to work out the average word count per page.

There are many formulas to be found but I’m only going to mention two. These are the two I’ve seen used the most and once you decide which formula you are going to use, whether it is one of the following or another, stick to it and stop worrying about word count.

Before I go into the formulas themselves, the page setup is an important factor. Most editors want us to use a standard size paper: in USA this would be 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch; in other parts of the world it is 210mm x 297mm (commonly known as A4). We should also use a non proportional type face such as courier new in size 12 font, as it’s easier on the eyes when reading. The margins should be at least 1 inch on all sides.

I actually used both of these methods on my own work and was amazed that they gave me the same answer, so I can safely say that I write 450 words per page (single spaced) but remember to change your manuscript to double spacing before you send it out.

Formula 1
Take a sheet from your manuscript that is quite full of typing. Don’t use a sheet with a lot of dialogue. Count the number of letters, including spaces and any punctuation marks, across one line of text. Say you get 60. Divide this by 6 and the answer is the number of words per line, which is 10 in this case.

Now count the number of lines that can be typed on down the page. Remember to count the blank line between paragraphs. Say you get 45 lines for single spacing. You multiply 45 by 10 and this gives you the number of words per page (in this instance 450 words).

Then you multiply the words per page (450) by the number of pages for the whole manuscript and this is our total word count.

So if I have 250 pages to my manuscript, this means that my total word count is 112,500 words.

Formula 2
The other method is to count the number of words in 10 lines (say you get 100) and divide the total number of words by 10, which means you have a line word count of 10.

Count the lines on an average page (again, say you get 45). Multiply the total number of lines (45) for the sample full page by the approximate word count for one line (10). This gives you the word count for one page, which in this instance is 450.

Then multiply this total count for the words on one page (450) by the total number of pages (our example is 250) in your manuscript. This is the total length of your manuscript in words would then be 112,500.


  • Always use single spacing to work out your word count but remember to change to double spacing before sending your manuscript to an editor.
  • Even if there is only three lines of type on a page, the page is still considered to have a word count of 450 words because in the printing industry the area used is what matters not the actual number of words.
  • Be sure to check with the editor or on their website, before sending your manuscript to them, to find out if they have a preferred method of working out the word count because some publishers do.