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Tips for Building Strong Manuscripts

Here are some tips that will help you deliver a manuscript that's as dynamic as possible:​

Craft a killer first line.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so don't waste that initial opportunity to hook readers. Make sure you're leading off with conflict and tension that will draw them into your story, compel them to care about your characters, and keep them turning the pages to find out what comes next. Remember: stories are about change. They need a happy ending, not a happy beginning.

Stand out from the crowd with a unique premise.

Everyone loves a good trope, but it's a crowded marketplace. Think about how you can twist a familiar and much-loved plot point to give it a new, fresh spin we haven't seen before. A unique hook can elevate your book to high-concept status.

Write from the right point of view.

First person? Third person? Alternating viewpoints? Think carefully about who should be telling your story and how.  Some genres, like romance that generally has two protagonists, benefit from alternating viewpoints so we can see relationships develop in each of their heads and hearts. Young adult and women's fiction usually work well in first person since they often hinge on a coming-of-age or life lesson for one protagonist.

Be the character, don't see the character.

No matter which viewpoint you choose, you'll want to tell your story from deep inside it. Deep POV is the difference between your reader experiencing the story through the character's actions rather than being told what the characters are doing and feeling. The former is a much more vibrant way to propel the narrative. It gives your characters agency and ensures they are leading the story rather than the story happening to them.

Stay in the present, not in the past.

One of the things that might lead a reader to put your book aside is if you kill the momentum by bogging down the story with too much navel-gazing on the character's history or entire flashbacks. Make sure each of your scenes revolve around what the character is doing to move their story forward in the present. Dole out backstory sparingly and organically through dialogue or interspersed with current action.

Don't forget the "Ahhhh!" moments. The real appeal of a story relies on how we feel about the characters. We don't always have to like them or find them relatable, but we have to feel invested and engaged. You must tug our heartstrings. The characters must go through a series of emotional turning points that are tied to how the plot moves. In romance especially, the emotional journey is the most important part of the story. Readers want those heart-soaring moments that make them go "Ahhhh!" 

Interpersonal conflict is more important than external.
It's worth saying again: it's all about the characters. The big conflict of your story is stronger if it stems from an antagonist blocking the protagonist from their agenda, not bad luck or external forces. In romance, this is especially important, as you want characters to work through real obstacles that stem from differing goals or perspectives, not be stymied by big misunderstandings or to reunite based on surviving tragic circumstances.


There are no rules.
These are just suggestions. If they don't work for you or your story, disregard them. Besides, if you "break the rules" with panache and pizzazz, no one will even notice.

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