Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Part 2 -- Top Ten Things Editors Want

This is the second in a series of hints offered by Raelene Gorlinsky of the ten things her editors at Ellora's Cave (EC) look for in a submitted manuscript.

We start tonight with #4. The bolded copy is Raelene' material. The rest is mine.

4. Is this something I would buy to read for myself?
Obviously this is a very subjective statement. How can an author hope to know what an editor likes to read? Well, think about it. What do YOU like to read?

Probably something that opens with a hook--action or dialogue--not pages and pages of narrative (the famous "Show, don't tell" rule; more about this later). Something well-paced. Only an insomniac wants a novel that will put him to sleep. Keep things hopping. Throw obstacles in your hero/ine's path. Conflict helps a book move.

5. Believable and likeable characters.
Hello?? Who wants to read about characters you don't like. When I think about this item, I think of Lawrence Block's Hitman. Block has a character who KILLS people for a living, but I still love the Hitman series. The killer loves dogs, is curious about the contracts he takes and even saves the life of a contract's grandchild. Your readers have to care about your characters and what is happening to them. Otherwise, why finish the book?

Your characters have to ring true. Don't have someone do something that doesn't make sense just to tie up your loose ends. This is probably the thing that drives me the most crazy in critiquing others' work. I'll ask, "Why is this character doing this?" The answer will be, "Well, he has to do that in order to make the next scene work." Makes me just nuts. Characters are doing things that make no sense just to help the author out.

Think about who your characters are and what motivates them. When I first started writing, Tami Cowden's archetypes helped me enormously. You can go to her website ( and click on "archetypes." To the left of the next page, you can click on heroes, heroines or villains to see the archetypes. They are a quick and easy way to think of your characters. Obviously, as your writing improves, you will develop deeper characterizations and motivations, but those archetypes helped me get started and stay on the straight and narrow.

6. An emotional connection between the characters, and the sensuality worked into the development of the romantic relationship.
Remember Ellora's Cave is a publisher that releases erotic romance novels although they are getting into other areas with their new imprints. Sensuality and romance are integral to their plots.

But note: Raelene says the characters need "an emotional connection." This is not porn. If you don't know the difference, go to Jeanne wrote a great article on the differences in the various levels of sensual fiction for the L.A. RWA. She describes romance, erotic romance, erotica and porn. All are very different and all have their own criteria. Erotic romance still has a romance. The main difference is that eroromance writers do not use the euphemisms that are rife in traditional romances. You won't find "his throbbing member" anywhere in an erotic romance.

7. Good blend of dialogue and action.
Writers have tools with which to work their magic. Long, lyrical descriptions (narrative) are less interesting than short active sentences. Dialogue is better than both.

Writers are often urged to "show, don't tell," meaning use active language that shows what is going on as it is happening. Don't write long, endless descriptions. I am frequently guilty of this in my first draft. While my dialogue is sharp and crisp, my descriptions always need to be reworked to avoid gerunds (ing words) and passive language. If you have the same tendency, it's critical that you find good critique partners. Even when I think I've caught all the passive stuff, my CPs will identify dozens more (Thanks, Lauren).

Tomorrow night, we'll finish up with the last three tips from Raelene.

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