At our Roundtable Discussion last week, it was great talking with Jane Friedman, contributing editor of Writers Digest, about the different kinds of red flags that she’s noticed in manuscripts.
Jane talked about “the usual suspects” in manuscripts–the need to “show” as well as “tell,” consistency with tenses and point of view, and being careful about too much back story arriving in a prologue or at the beginning of a book.
“The agent or editor need to be fully engaged in the first one to three pages,” Jane told us. Memoirists especially seem to be driven to fit in so many details that the text doesn’t flow as it should, and the reader is burdened with too much information.
We talked about the need for the writer to understand structure and the narrative arc. In my book The Power of Memoir, I spend a whole chapter talking about the power of scene, narrative arc, and dramatic construction. Because memoirists are so involved in the details of their memories, finding structure is usually one of the biggest challenges.
Jane suggests that we ask ourselves: what is the conflict on the first page? And she warns against using any kind of tricks to create interest and forward motion. For instance, don’t withhold a secret until later in the book. The reader knows that you, the narrator know the secret, and are simply withholding it.
I felt energized by my conversation with Jane, and like a good student, I took lots of notes. Sign up for the Roundtable, and receive a link to the audio! Keep writing! And stay tuned for more Roundtables at NAMW to enhance your writing life.
As a memoirist, I totally relate to Jane’s comments. I am finding myself writing in a too narrative voice. Hence, my reader doesn’t hear my voice; not tuned in or drawn into my story.
Also, do i write in 1st POV or SPT (simple past tense)?
So, i must include my conflict definitley before page three?
I heard that prologues are history…get right to the point.
Thank you for your feedback, Jane.