Who, What, When, Where, and Why: WHY


(This post is next-to-last in a series that summarizes an entire semester of Journalism 101.)

If you’ve ever parented a two year old, you’re prepared to deal with the “whys” of a manuscript. (Of course, you’re probably qualified to deal with every disaster known to mankind, too.)

There are dozens of reasons someone stops reading a book, but the saddest is when there’s just no point in continuing. The story isn’t compelling enough. Or doesn’t make sense. The sentences don’t flow to connect thoughts. The paragraphs jump. The chapters don’t build one after the other.

best-news-pictures-july-2013-sinkhole_70012_600x450As an author, I know my storylines so well that I sometimes leave gaps that become sinkholes into which readers fall. And the road to reader rejection is paved with good intentions—and sometimes, good writing. To stay on course, I use two tools that take me beyond what I intend to write so I can discover what I’ve actually written.

The Crowd with Healthy Distance.     An editor (or two). Beta readers. A writing group. ABangkok_traffic_by_g-hat mentor. Even your mom. Or a combination of all of the preceding. I just asked a reader to tell me where chapters became sluggish and where she was tempted to skip. In every instance (thankfully, there were few), something bogged my logic flow and, as a result, my writing. Once I figured out the problems, the passages became smooth, and the reader barrelled through them.

You’ll probably find, as I have, that everyone picks up on something different. My healthy-distance crowd ranges from their twenties to their eighties to ensure I miss little.

Read it Aloud.     If there’s an author test for insanity, it’s locking yourself in your office to read your manuscript out loud to yourself. But you’ll be amazed—AMAZED—what you discover. Not only will you hear dialogue problems, but you’ll find passages that are hard to read aloud. Pay attention to these. They indicate issues with copy—where it doesn’t flow well or something’s missing. As much as I think I need to be committed every time I do this, it’s one of my most important tools as I approach what I believe to be the end of the editing process.

How do you deal with your manuscript’s “whys?”