by Anna Jones Buttimore
I've already talked about Point of View in this post, and setting out your manuscript according to industry guidelines in this post. But today I'm going to address one of the most fundamental things of all for a writer - knowing the why, what and how of your manuscript.
Let me elaborate by demonstrating how not to do it. I recently edited a short story which was a deeply unsatisfying read. It was a courtroom "drama" told from the point of view of a juror. Now, I don't subscribe to the view that every short story should have a dramatic twist ending, but it should at least be interesting, compelling and have something to say. The reader should gain something, some reward, for the effort of reading the story.
In this story the court case was relatively straightforward and dull, the characters were stereotypes, the verdict was exactly what it was expected to be from the beginning, and the juror went home again, did some gardening and reflected on her return to normal life. After wading through 5,000 words, I was left wondering why I, or anyone, needed to read it. There was no plot, no revelation, nothing life-affirming, a lot of uninteresting and unnecessary detail, and no satisfaction for the reader.
Your book should have a purpose. There should be something very fundamental to gain from reading it which you can sum up in one intriguing sentence, because when you come to query agents and publishers, that's how you'll sell it to them. In fact, that's how you'll sell it to readers, too.
Agents and publishers will ask why a reader with limited cash would choose your book over all the others available, and you should be able to answer. What conflict does it solve? What life-changing revelation does it contain? What peril is going to keep readers on the edge of their seats? Which characters are they going to remember forever, and why?
In short, keep the purpose of your book to the forefront, and include some drama in your courtroom.