QUICK FIX FICTION
machinations of the East India company), and on the social history (the legal position for indentured workers in Mauritius; and the position of women in 19th Century Canada). As a result, the novel read much more convincingly like the cross-continental tour de force it set out to be.
more space to reflect on what is happening, particularly at turning-points in the story, the novel’s page-turning power (often mistakenly associated only with aspects of plotting or narrative structure) is greatly increased.
One author of an ambitious novel set in
You’ve finished your novel. You’ve read it so often you’ve lost all sense of objectivity. Top manuscript editor Rose Gaete suggests six last-minute fixes to try before sending it out into the world
1970s Chile wrote powerfully about a young woman who was tortured during Pinochet’s dictatorship. However, in early drafts, she moved too quickly from the perspective of
Iworked as an agent for the Wylie Agency for several years, where I represented new writers and sold their novels to mainstream publishers. One of my biggest excitements was debut novelist Jon McGregor who made the Booker longlist with If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things.
It was crucial then (as now) that books were submitted in their best possible form: it would be very unusual for an editor to ask to take a second look at a novel they hadn’t loved immediately. Even with established writers, we would work together on several drafts before submission. These days I work freelance, giving editorial advice to aspiring writers and editing novels for publication. As it’s harder than ever to find an agent nowadays, let alone secure a successful publishing deal, many writers are turning to creative writing courses and manuscript assessment agencies for editorial development (see The Professionals box).
Nurturing a novelist is a long and complex process, but over the years I have noticed a few issues that come up over and over in the manuscripts I work with, and which can be easily addressed by the author without resorting to a professional manuscript service or a total rewrite.
It is also curious how reluctant writers are to flesh out the geographical setting, even when it is a central theme in the book. A young South African mentee I worked with set one strand of her semi-autobiographical novel around Cape Town. The effect of this magnificent landscape was crucial to the main character’s subsequent life decisions. It was only when the author included some more detailed descriptions and explored the fact that large parts of the countryside were forbidden to Black South Africans, that the reader could understand the protagonist’s complex and ambivalent relationship to the land.
2 Stick to one perspective Another common mistake, easily remedied, is moving from one character’s perspective to another and back within the same chapter, sometimes even within the same page. If the central characters are given the prison guard, to the tortured woman, to a childhood flashback, and then on to a long section of dialogue, which diluted the effect. Once she focused on the protagonist’s experiences in prison, the final draft achieved a compelling and dramatic intensity. The author now has an excellent agent.
Similarly, if your structure feels weak or narrative momentum is slow, it might indicate that the number of perspectives or time periods needs to be reduced. One novel about the life of Mary Wollstonecraft had a brilliant voice for Mary, but two additional less well-conceived narrators. Once these were removed, it felt like the writer was free to tell the story without being hampered by the form.
3 Show and tell At dramatic turning points, a conversation can be a lot less revealing than a reflective
1 Flesh out the context I am often impressed by the quality of a writer’s prose style: the fluency, the moments of lyricism, the sharp detailing. However, many writers could be more ambitious and include longer sections of sustained narrative. A novel can be greatly enriched by deepening the historical context, for example. Recently I read a wonderful novel set across five continents as a wide range of characters made their way to Mauritius. I suggested the author include more on the historical background (the roots of the rubber industry in Penang; the
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16 Apr/May/Jun 2011