Being a Pitch Wars mentor means reading many, many, many submissions. This can be a query and a few pages, or straight through a full novel. I’m looking for something that grabs me and refuses to let go.
I also notice some trends. This is true for anyone who reads multiple submissions. Certain trends, be it themes or weaknesses pop up. It’s actually a great learning tool and I encourage people to consider intern reading positions when possible.
As a mentor, I’m not looking for something perfect, I’m looking for something I can fix. And across a lot of my subs, both from what I requested and not, I started to see a pattern. I want to mention this here, because I’m only going to be able to help two authors, but if I put it here maybe I can help more.
And to be clear, this does not mean you have the problem, this does mean that it’s worth looking into to strengthen your story.
So what’s this problem? Get to the point already, right? Exactly. I’m noticing stories with lagging beginnings. Stories that I feel take too long to set up the plot, or too long to get to the point.
The story starts on page one. From page one the author needs to grab the reader and pull them along. Yes, there are slower moments needed and there’s backstory and set up required, but check yourself. Limit it to only what’s needed.
I think a lot of this stems from the earlier drafts, when the writer themselves is getting to know the story. This doesn’t mean these words are bad. It does mean that some of them might be more for the writer than the reader.
I don’t have a magic formula here, because every novel is different. This is where beta readers and critique partners are great, they can point out lagging areas and help show a writer where they need to tighten the plot.
Another way of looking at this stems from the query. If a query mentions this kickass plot point early on, and in reading the novel it takes forever to get to this point, then something is off and not working. There needs to be an early hook that grabs the reader, not just a later hook that needs far too much development. (Again, your mileage may vary, each story is different.) Perhaps this means the query is focusing on the wrong part of the story. But often times when a writer works out a query or synopsis, those devices can show potential weak areas of a story and start a needed revision.
Writers, check out your novels. How long does it take for the main plot to get moving? And I don’t mean set up, I mean in action. If I read a query about a Zombie orgy on the planet Mars, and the story begins with the orgy members slowly meeting and developing a bond over a bowl of brains, I’m going to be itching to get them to Mars and to that orgy! That’s why I picked up the book!
I think this is especially important for authors who are starting out. If Stephen King or Nora Roberts writes a novel that starts out slow, the readers already know where the payoff will be, they will gladly follow along, waiting for things to pick up. But a no name Susie Smith hasn’t already made those promises to the reader. The opening words are those promise and that promise needs to start ASAP, otherwise Susie’s book is going back on the shelf.
Here’s a revision tip for all: check out that opening and build up to the plot. Make it tighter. Even if the story isn’t lagging, there’s usually some tightening that can be done to make things stronger.