Why Readers Left Your Story: It Didn’t Start in the Right Place

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

 See the end of this post for more information.

Stories have three places they begin: too early, too late, or just right. Starting in the right place is about deciding what’s the actual current story. Readers want to start in the action of what I’ll call the real story.

Too Early

The reason readers leave is the writer makes them plow through too much set-up drudgery. The reader is bored.

The writer starts somewhere in a character’s backstory so the reader will understand why the character is like she is. Then, to get to the real story, the writer wearies the reader with hours, days, or years of mundane events unrelated to the real story.

Too Late

The reason readers leave is the writer plunks the reader into a period after the most crucial real-story event has happened. The reader is confused, especially when the writer holds back information about the crucial event thinking this adds suspense.

The writer starts where the character is reacting strangely to situations. Not knowing anything about the crucial event, the reader may think the character is unlikeable—whiny or unreasonable.

The writer has placed the crucial event into the backstory. Instead of experiencing the event with the character, the reader now:

  • has to read what a character thinks or dialogs about the event to be brought up to speed, or
  • becomes confused about what’s going on, and
  • has little buy-in to how the event affected the character and his goals.

Just Right

The reason the reader stays is the writer draws the reader into a journey with one event that challenges the character’s goals, causes him to make hard decisions, and forces him to take significant actions.

Look for the event, no matter how big or small, that upsets the character’s normal world. This event is called the inciting incident. The place to start the story is just before the inciting incident occurs—long enough to show what the character’s ordinary world is like. Then, bam, the event happens and triggers a change in the character and sends her on a journey.

An Example

Backstory: Austin’s dad left when he was seven. Today, he backs away from relationships when women talk about marriage and having children. He fears being a father like his dad.

Ordinary world: He’s a detective. He and his team chill at a pizza parlor after putting away a crooked art dealer. The guys tease Austin about taking two weeks off to hike in the Colorado Rockies to get away from his latest girlfriend.

Inciting incident: Tired from the case, the men leave. Austin visits the restroom then heads to his SUV. As he opens the car door, a woman, Missy, jabs a gun into his ribs and takes possession of his Glock. She directs him to get inside, then she and her seven-year-old son Silas climb into the backseat. Holding her gun to his head, she tells him to drive out of Boulder going east. He tries to talk her out of kidnapping him. No go. He’s no longer the cop but the victim.

Journey: The real story unfolds. The three travel to Florida. The thugs Missy had been involved with are in hot pursuit. Austin learns Silas witnessed the thugs murdering Missy’s boyfriend. In the past, Austin arrested Missy and told her she should get her life straight. She’s taking him up on his advice. On the trip, Austin’s backstory is fed in a little at a time, showing why he acts indifferent to Silas at first. Then, against what he wants, he becomes attached to Silas. And the story goes on. (Only in some stories does the character leave on a literal journey.)

Starting too early: He’s in a relationship with Tracy. She starts talking about marriage. He share’s stories about what his life was like without a father. Night after night she nags and he backs away. Finally, he leaves her. He and his team work on the crooked art dealer’s case. They catch the guy. They go to a pizza parlor. (Reader engaged in the real story?)

Starting too late: The story opens with Austin, Missy, and Silas having lunch at a restaurant in Dodge City, Kansas. They don’t converse. Austin’s thoughts center around how he’s smarter than Missy, who thinks she’s in control. Her sob story about thugs after Silas has prevented him from hiking two weeks in the Rockies. But he’s a cop and will handle her. He wishes he’d never met Missy in the past. They leave the restaurant and continue driving toward Florida. (Reader thinks he’s on a job? Finds Austin whiny? Thinks missy is an old girlfriend?)

Where does your story start? What’s the inciting incident that sets your character on a journey?

Buy Page

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising the early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly, writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in only 30 days!

—Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. 

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Holding Back Story Info Doesn’t Always Create Suspense

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

 See the end of this post for more information.

 

Writers of all genres want—and should—create suspense in their scenes. They want to create delicious questions in the reader’s mind that the reader can’t wait to learn the answers.

Unfortunately, writers often create confusion instead of suspense. I’ve observed this especially in new writers.

Case of Confusion

The opening paragraph:

On her first day of classes, Cassie joined other students outside the classroom. Several smiled at her and welcomed her. While the students carried on lively conversations, Cassie narrowed her eyes and stared at them. She gave mental huffs when students turned away from her. The other students glanced her way less and less during their conversations.

Cassie dodged students in the corridor on her way to her next class. No one understood her. Why did Dad have to move the family so often. Didn’t he know blending in was hard for her? If only he’d change jobs.

A redhead approached her outside her English class. “You’re in my biology class. How do you like Sampson High?”

“It’s okay for a deaf person.”

The writer decided to hold off revealing Cassie is deaf. She wanted to make the reader wonder why Cassie continually narrows her eyes, stares at other students, and becomes upset when people turn away from her. What happens, though, is the reader is thrown out of the story’s flow and tries to figure out why Cassie acts so weird—is unlikeable.

The writer could have given better clues, such as Cassie concentrates on students’ lips, but the writer doesn’t want the reader to guess Cassie is deaf. The writer wants to surprise the reader.

The writer has created confusion when it’s the writer’s job to ground the reader with the information the reader needs to get into the story as smoothly as possible.

So, What Is Suspense?

 

Trent receives a phone call. “Meet me behind the cafeteria. I’ve got somethin’ for you. You ain’t gonna like it, but if you’re gonna survive the school year, you’re gonna need it.”

This makes the reader ask the question, “What does the caller have for Trent that’s not good but he’ll need to survive? I want to know.”

What other questionable techniques confuse readers?

Buy Link

“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author Paragraph

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/

 

4 Reasons to Ditch “There Is” and the Like in Stories

Zoe’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

 See the end of this post for more information.

Here are the problems: there is, there are, there was, there were, it is, it was, and here is. Why do editors fuss over there is and the like?

1. Dialog should reflect what characters would say, but writers should tighten dialog.

Characters do say the above openers, such as there is.

Chase and Kristin drove past Cannamart. “There is one good reason I shop at Cannamart. The low prices.”

Sentences similar to this example still stop me. Most people would use the contraction There’s:

Better: Chase and Kristin drove past Cannamart. “There’s one good reason I shop at Cannamart. The low prices.”

But why not ditch there is?

Better: Chase and Kristin drove past Cannamart. “I shop at Cannamart for the low prices.”

This says the same thing and is less wordy.

2. There is and the like employ the overused verb to be and exhibit passive voice.

Jason machine-gunned orders to his staff. It was his way of preventing them from lollygagging.

The second sentence is wordy. The writer slows down the pace. “Lollygagging” alone works for the contrast between the fast, machine-gunned orders and the slow hires’ speed.

Better: Jason machine-gunned orders to his staff to prevent them from lollygagging.

Better: Jason machine-gunned orders to his staff and terminated their lollygagging.

 This example moves the first example from passive to active voice.

3. Here was (is) is wordy and passive.

Jan was in a good mood. Here was the right moment to tell Janice what he thought.

Better: Jan’s good mood furnished the right moment to tell her what he thought.

4. Passive expressions such as there were contain the uninteresting to be verb.

There were six maids in the queen’s chamber.

Ditch there were and add an interesting action verb.

Better: Six maids flitted around the queen in her chamber.

There were four deer in the flower beds.

Better: Four deer trampled the petunias in the flower beds.

There was bitterness in my heart.

Better: Bitterness gnawed my heart.

Search for there is and the like in your stories and try to rewrite the sentences, ditching the passive expressions.

What other problems have you seen in writers using such expressions as there is?

Buy Link

“I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.” Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author Paragraph

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools. —Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript and into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan. —Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling author of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, the Southern Quilting Mysteries, and the Memphis Barbeque Mysteries http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/