April 05, 2009

Take the Director's Chair

I get a lot of submissions that have an interesting plot or storyline but the writing is just not there. On a lot of them it seems to me that they quit when they wrote 'the end' and didn't take the last vital step. I don't mean they didn't edit it, they polished the story and grammar and probably felt they had it cleaned up as well as they could, but it just didn't read well.

The best example that I've come up with to illustrate the missing step is shooting a movie. When a movie crew goes to work they shoot footage in the order that makes the best use of the resources. What that means is they may shoot scenes from the beginning, middle and end which will all be in the same location, then they'll change location and start shooting the scenes that will be done there, no matter where in the movie they will fall.

It makes sense. But what that also means is the movie isn't a movie until the director goes into the cutting room and fits all the pieces in place to where it flows seamlessly and engages the viewer at every turn. And some of the film stays on the cutting room floor.

This what is missing in so much of what I am seeing. The writer has done the job. The editor has even cleaned up the technical stuff. But it's time to sit in the director's chair. It's time to look at how the story flows.

Does it engage the reader on the very first page and FORCE them to turn the page? By the end of the first scene is the reader into the story and committed to reading? Are there places where description or narration or anything else boggs the story down to the point of ruining the flow? Do scene transitions and chapter transitions push the reader forward without giving a convenient place to put the book down? Does the story have an ebb and flow, do characters sound unique from one another? You see where I'm going with this.

Chances are the director is not changing the story when they do this. The director is thinking like a reader. He or she is not thinking about what the story is but simply how it reads. We have to remember that it is not the job of the reader, or for that matter an editor or agent, to like our writing. It is our job to pull them in and work them like an expert angler working a fish, making absolutely sure they get every ounce of enjoyment out of the read that is possible. Making them like our story by the way we expertly guide them through it.

A good director takes a good story and turns it into a great book.

1 comment:

Mary said...


Excellent advise. Now I will use it and read the manuscript that I've put aside for awhile. Thanks so much.