Every day, great stories miss getting a fair reading because of these three common mistakes. If you follow these three tips, around 99% of your competition fades away. Most of your competition isn’t going to even take time to read this list.
1) Remove passive sentences and passive voice.
Passive sentences, … Ick. Passive voice, ... Double ick. Imagine a greasy-haired, oily-faced teen, who’s worn the same smelly clothes for a week—that’s how editors look at passive sentences and passive voice. For brevity, I refer to them both as passive sentences.
Around 75% of all stories I receive, I reject because of passive sentences. Get your story noticed by removing every possible passive sentence. After removing them, go through and fix all the impossible-to-remove passive sentences, too. Removing passive sentences will feel awkward to novice writers. After removing them regularly, you will discover that you don’t use passive sentences in first drafts anymore.
In case you don’t know how to spot and remove passive sentences, check out my passive sentence post.
2) Narrative summary makes editors feel as though they missed all the action.
Narrative summary happened. Narrative summary is a story told within your story, usually by the narrator. It does not happen in front of the reader. The author tells about it having happened. The biggest giveaway of narrative summary is the word ‘had.’ Search your story for the word ‘had.’ Now delete all those sentences.
If the narrative summary is really so important that you can’t get rid of it, then rewrite it as though you are describing your favorite TV show or YouTube video in present tense and put it at the beginning of the story. If that makes the beginning of your story boring, delete it, and find a way to include the information in very small portions in the main story. Everything should happen in front of the reader as though they are watching a play.
Think of narrative summary as that little bit at the beginning of the second part of two-part TV shows. No one likes to start in on the second episode of a two-part show. It’s like buying a ticket to a movie and only showing up for the second hour.
No one wants to read narrative summary. Remove all narrative summary.
3) Know your characters better than you know your parents or significant other.
Spend time daydreaming about the main characters and supporting characters in your story. Hold imaginary interviews with them, where they have to answer every question honestly. Don’t stop until you know something you could blackmail them with. If you can’t orate on the background, dreams, personality, and embarrassing moments in your characters’ lives for several minutes without coming up for air, then you don’t know them well enough to write about them.
Those are the three tips.
1) Fix passives.
2) Fix narrative summary.
3) Know your characters.
It sounds sooooo easy, but most authors don’t do any of these. If you internalize these three tips, editors will start scanning their submission lists for your name. I’m not joking. They will.