Liars Club

Things Editors Have Taught Me.

by Simmons on January 17, 2012

in Uncommitted

1. Your main character does not have to be likable, but he or she has to have spunk.   Spunk in the past or spunk in the present.  Wounded spunk, subtle spunk, suppressed spunk that slowly works its way to the surface.

2. When plotting, logic is your friend.  Coincidence is your enemy.

3. When describing, be concrete.   Mementoes over memories.   The soft hand of the sheets matters as much as the harshness of the dreams.

4. No one could ever sigh as much as women sigh in my early drafts. It’s not medically possible.   Could they maybe breathe deeply once in a while, or shrug their shoulders, or shuffle their feet?

5. I tend to think of character’s back story as boring cocktail party small talk.  Readers, not so much.   Readers naturally wonder why characters do what they do.  So clue them in now and then.   Let their pasts shine through by constantly asking, “Why?”

6. Try to leave every chapter with a hook to the next.  But do not let this hook be obvious, like “Jenna was about to learn how very wrong she was.”   Yes, this is harder than planting potatoes in a frozen field.  But do it anyway.

7. Don’t let anyone tell you differently:  A little bit of “telling” is absolutely fine.  IF it’s brilliantly written.

8. The title of the book has to feel like the genre and style of your writing.  You may have inadvertently titled your chick lit book with a high falutin’ literary title.  Or your mystery may have a title that sounds like non-fiction.  It needs to match, so the reader’s expectations are properly met.

9. Make the acknowledgments at the back of the book as complicated and effusive as you like,  but keep the dedication simple and humble.  A too-lofty dedication can set the wrong tone.

10. Read and revise your manuscript onscreen, sure, but also print it out, and staple the chapters together.   The act of reading it on paper uses different mental muscles.

11. The opening sentence is far, far, more important than the closing one.

12. That being said, if you screw up the ending no reader will ever forgive you.  Think long and hard about what would be an emotionally satisfying ending.  Not a happy one, necessarily, or a beautifully written one.  But an emotionally satisfying one.

13. If you screw up the middle, you won’t be alone.  Many writers’ books have flaws in the middle.   However, yours isn’t going to be one, so put some more plot in the freaking middle, would you?

14. There are really two types of writers:  those who need to be told no no no, no more of that!  And those that need to be told yes,  yes, yes, more more more of that!  Figure out which you are, and try to act accordingly.

Kelly Simmons is the author of the Simon & Schuster novels STANDING STILL and THE BIRD HOUSE.  She also blogs at and blathers on twitter @kellysimmons.

Oh, and always keep a journal for notes.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie Cunningham Ortiz January 29, 2012 at 10:04 am

Thanks for such fantastic advice! This would make a great poster to hang above our desks…

Donna Galanti January 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

Kelly, I agree with Stephanie – a post to hang over the desk and read each day to ground yourself in your writing and keep you on track as you muddle through your scenes and characters. It’s also good for that chuckle when you are knee deep in frustration. Thanks!

Linda C. Wisniewski January 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Isn’t it interesting how important it is for a story to be “emotionally satisfying.” to the reader/editor? I can enjoy books about experiences way outside of my normal life if I care about the main character. I’m finding that it’s also more fulfilling for me as a writer when I let my emotions speak on the page.

Kathryn Craft February 5, 2012 at 6:36 pm

This is a brilliant post, Kelly. I’ve just been working on #13 in my own edits. I had a lot of pay-offs at the end of the book and my agent wanted me to move a few into the middle for added tension. Worked great. As for #14, I think most of us writers need both the yes-yes and the no-no feedback! If we spent as much time on figuring out our strengths as we did beefing up our weaknesses, marketing would be easier—you’d know what it is you do better than other authors.

Kelly Simmons February 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Aw, thanks guys! I have a lot of, ahem, experience being edited!

Julie Ackerman June 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Great post. Thanks for the thought about the title matching the tone and style of the book. That makes perfect sense, but had never occurred to me. Good food for thought.

Jessica Pigeau June 11, 2012 at 2:35 am

I find that the best way to think about “telling” and “showing,” is, not as mutually exclusive strategies with a clear superior, but as writing tools with specific purposes.
One should not use a hammer to dig a hole, nor a shovel to drive in a nail.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: