Polishing Prose

Image Despite the appearance of some much-needed summer sun at the weekend, this writer managed to squirrel herself away in a suitably shady spot to refine her work and all I can say is – it only goes to show that even when you think you’ve perfected and polished your words to a brilliant sheen, sometimes, when you dust them down again, you realise they need a little bit of buffing…

My point here is that, with my pitch letter more or less in a format that I’m happy with (finally) and my synopsis re-written for the umpteenth time…. I turned my attention to something which had been niggling away at me for a while about my opening chapter.

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive really lovely feedback about my writing to date but I know from reading other children’s fiction and from the advice given by agents and publishers that what makes a book stand out is an action-packed opening, which mine didn’t exactly do. I mean, it got there fairly quickly, but I’d added in quite a bit of description in one of my re-drafts which had slowed the pace down a little.

Anyway, on Saturday I found an email in my inbox linking me to an agent’s blog that I follow and this is what she said:

‘I realise I am becoming increasingly impatient. This isn’t a sign of ageing, (I hope), but thanks to working in children’s publishing and while it’s easy to understand how the slow process and occasionally sleepy editors may be trying to one’s tolerance levels, actually that’s not to blame in this instance.  Instead it’s to do with my shrinking attention span and growing appetite for a story to start instantly with no beating around the bush, free from gentle description or lengthy scene setting. In short, I have a zero tolerance policy for rambling openings.

So it’s simple! Character + Action + Question =  The perfect opening!’


It was however, the push I needed and so, I sat down with my notebook and pen (old-skool again, I know!) and re-wrote my opening, cross-referencing it with what I’d already written and making it punchier at the beginning. I was both excited at addressing that niggling problem and also Extremely Worried that I might ruin the story, but I think I actually prefer what I have now to what I had before and now that the scary part of cutting and editing is done, I can breathe a sigh of relief. To be honest, I’ve also managed to save most of the original writing as well, just shifting it around and merging it with the new stuff. I just hope that this, now is it, but I’m confidant that it is. That little pesky seed of doubt has been weeded out and I think the absence of it means I’ve done the right thing for my story…

So…. back to the submission process. Great plans often go awry and although I’d hoped to get my manuscript sent off before the summer I’m still going to push on with sending it now, whether it takes longer to hear back or not. I’ve had some good feedback from author Felicity McCall on my Dreaded Synopsis, so I really think it might be time. (I’ve said this a lot, I know, but I promise – to myself if to no-one else – soon there will be a post entitled ‘Sent!’)


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5 responses to “Polishing Prose

  1. Good Luck with your writing. I know exactly what you mean about polishing those words!

    • Thanks! I was sure I was done with this draft but there was always that little voice saying – ‘you like it but you know it’s missing something!’
      Submission day is looming closer though… at last!
      Thanks for your comment and good luck with your writing as well. I was reading your post about the writer showing and not telling and it can certainly be tricky! You don’t want to patronise the reader but you also want to make sure they ‘get’ what you mean!

      • Yes there’s a fine line between the two. Will keep working on that short story, I have until the end of July. Thanks for visiting my site and for liking my page

  2. Good post. So tempting to send it away too early and then regret it afterwards. It’s always tricky to get to the story quickly but still tell the reader enough about the characters to keep them interested. Good luck with the submission.

    • Hi Cora, Sorry for the late reply…I’ve been away and didn’t have access to a computer! Thanks for your comment. I know, it’s hard not to rush something out but also, it can be easy to overwork something as well – I guess it’s finding the right balance and knowing when you’re done! But on with the next one now I think 🙂

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