I’m a very excited Write Romantic today because I picked up my NWS reader’s report last night. Late last night (I’d been out for a meal then caught up on BGT, never thinking to check my emails first). My heart started racing as soon as I spotted it in my inbox and my hands were actually shaking as I clicked on my mouse to open it.
My worst-case scenarios was that my reader hated it and pulled it to bits. My best-case one was that they absolutely loved it and had shown it to their agent who had lined me up a 10-book publishing deal and sold the film rights. Hee hee! In reality, I knew the latter wasn’t going to happen and really hoped that the first wasn’t going to. I’d have been surprised if it had because I had a pretty positive response with my first submission of the same book in 2012. I had, however, heard of cases of re-submissions (and 2nd reads before they ceased this year) where the readers contradicted each other so that was another scenario I worried about.
NWS organiser Melanie’s covering email hinted I wasn’t about to read a horror story: “Hope you find it encouraging – she seems to have enjoyed it a lot” Eeeekkk!!!!!!
My report started with a really encouraging comment – “it was a good read and I had fun reading.” Last year’s report also said, “I really enjoyed reading your novel and its lively, engaging prose.” Good start!
My reader tells me she’s marked my MS with various initial thoughts but also “lots of smiley faces where it made me laugh”. I suspect I’ll get this in the post by the middle of the week and look forward to reading this. I’m very happy for my reader to scribble all over my MS as feedback on very specific scenes/dialogue etc is invaluable. As a romantic comedy writer, knowing that I’ve made someone laugh is amazing news. She picks up on this later in her feedback again saying my tone is humorous and “in places the dialogue is hilarious and made me giggle aloud.” Wow! How flattering is that?
There are three main areas for improvement:
1. LENGTH/START POINT – When I submitted my 2012 MS, I knew it was too big at 126,617 words but I just couldn’t see where to edit it down and hoped the review would help to direct me. Sure enough the feedback was that it was too long and my reader felt I could remove the first 70 or so pages and start the story later, bringing the previous bits in as back story. I did a poll of my beta readers and they were all adamant that I shouldn’t do this as they felt it all helped build my protagonist’s character. I did cut a couple of chapters in this first 70 pages. I’d asked my fellow Write Romantic Jo to give it a read and let me know if there were any scenes or even chapters which slowed things down. Her advice was invaluable and I culled a couple of chapters. Despite this, my 2013 submission ended up being 126,673 words! I cut but I then developed other parts of the story.
My 2013 reader has made the same point over length and has suggested that the story should start about 40 or so pages in. Funnily enough, this takes it to the exact same start point that my 2012 reader suggested. I was adamant before this year’s submission that I wasn’t going to do this later start, partly because I absolutely love the first couple of chapters. Two readers have now said exactly the same thing. Clearly there’s something in this. No writing is wasted writing. I keep all my previous versions and I keep significant removed parts (chapters or several scenes) as separate documents. I can use all of this good writing again; perhaps in someone else’s story. I feel ready for the cull now. I didn’t before. What’s particularly helpful is that my reader has suggested a couple of story threads that I could cut and she is absolutely right. They aren’t essential to the plot and I can easily link chapters without those themes
2. CHARACTER ARC – My 2012 reader felt my protagonist, Sarah, had no character arc. Her motivations for what she did were questionable and she clearly didn’t learn from any of her experiences. I’d been surprised when I read this but realised quite quickly that she was absolutely right. I’ve worked hard on the character arc for this year’s submission and it has paid off – sort of. My 2013 reader has stated exactly what the arc is (which I won’t explain as I don’t want to give spoilers) so it’s clearly there. However, she says it isn’t smooth because Sarah dots about and changes her mind. She’s illustrated this with specific examples and I can see immediately what she means. And she’s right
3. THE MIDDLE – My 2012 reader said “the plot felt a touch episodic in places, moving from situation to situation”. This point related particularly to the character arc (i.e. what Sarah learned from each situation) but it also made me think about some of the experiences Sarah had and whether they slowed the pace down. Without giving away too much on the relevance to the story line, this middle section is a series of dates that go wrong. I removed the largest chapter to cut back on this but I’ve obviously not gone far enough as my 2013 reader says “the pace is a bit slow. Things drag and meander into tangents in the middle … [that don’t] really serve the story.” I think this is another case where I now feel ready. I didn’t want to remove any of the dates. They’re funny. But I see how they’re slowing the story. Time for another cull and I know exactly where I can do this.
As I write this, I’m realising this all sounds quite negative but it isn’t. Here’s some of the wonderful quotes I have:
“Characterisation – you do this very well. The characters were believable and the dialogue flows very naturally. They are all interesting people.”
“XXX [spoiler-avoidance] is lovely. What a great hero.”
“The secondary characters were great. I loved Clare.” I love Clare too. I can’t wait to write her story but Elise’s is next in the trilogy so I’ll have to wait a bit longer.
“Setting – you describe things in just the right amount of detail, so that there’s enough to give an idea of the place, but not so much that it’s noticeable. I was very impressed.”
“Dialogue – excellent. You have a good ear for dialogue. I particularly like the way that you could tell instantly that Clare was Irish, just from the way she speaks.” This one in particular thrilled me as my writing friend has been scathing all along about how badly I capture the Irish accent; something I very strongly disagree with. Ha!
“Your style and voice are good. You manage the bits that require the most skill (characterisation and dialogue) quite naturally. Those are the skills that are hardest to learn, so well done!”
So it seems that I need to look at my structure a bit more, smooth out that character arc and cull about 40,000 words. No worries. I’ll have that done by next weekend!!! 😉
Joking aside, I feel very encouraged. I can tell my submission has definitely moved on from 2012’s and isn’t far off being ready to send out to agents/publishers. My reader even suggests it would fit well with Avon. How exciting! But it’s her parting words that have provided me with the biggest boost yet … “It’s a good story with some great characters. You’ve got a nice style and I’m sure you’ll be published soon. Good luck!”
My editing pens are at the ready …