Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Does Your Manuscript Have Curb Appeal?

What I'm reading: Hothouse Orchid, by Stuart Woods. I'm also over at Pen to Paper. And, despite much resistance, Elizabeth's post guilted me into joining Twitter. I'm one of the "Women to Watch" in the Nov/Dec issue of Orange Appeal. Link on my website. And NOWHERE TO HIDE has a release date: August 20, 1020.

Curb Appeal: As I mentioned on Monday, we'd had enough comments that our house lacked any visibility from the street, and if buyers couldn't find it or see it, they would either not come in, or come in with a negative attitude.

Even if the view from inside is what we like (can't see the neighbors or the street), if people don't come inside, they can't appreciate that aspect of the house.

One of the reasons we selected the Realtor we did for our next go-round was that she appreciated our natural approach to landscaping and said she would use it as a marketing tool. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't clean up what we have to present the best possible first impression. So, yesterday morning, a crew of guys with big trucks and rakes, shovels and other implements of destruction showed up to deal with the overgrowth.


As for curb appeal, for a manuscript, it's more than a book's cover. A cover doesn't happen until well after the manuscript is sold. What the author has to do is make sure that first impression will get the agent or editor reading. As with our house, it doesn't matter how beautifully decorated the interior is if the buyer doesn't come inside. People often ask editors and agents how far they read before deciding on whether or not to accept a manuscript. The almost universal response: "Until I stop."

The author's job is to get them to pull into the driveway, walk up to the front door, and then look at every room in the house. There's no point in saying, "but the guest room is gorgeous". Likewise, you can't say, "The story gets really good in chapter five." If so, chapter five should be chapter one.

Keep Reading...

Thus, I've been looking at my prologue and opening chapter again. I've trimmed more prologue details (including more from the example I gave the other day, because it wasn't going to get a reader into the story). I've revamped the opening chapter where we meet the cop for the first time. It's gone from 491 words to 331 words.

I prefer the stakes to escalate through the book, so the opening conflicts are less critical, but they have to be there.

So, here you go: Before:

Gordon Hepler stared at the spreadsheet on his monitor. At this rate, he'd be blind before his contract was up for renewal. Budgets and paperwork. It's not like Mapleton saw a lot of crime, but he'd felt more useful on the streets. He should never have accepted the position of Chief of Police.

A promise was a promise, he reminded himself. Even if the person you made it to wasn't around anymore.

He minimized the spreadsheet window and picked up the stack of reports from the night shift. To the disgruntlement of his officers, the budget didn't include laptops in their cruisers, and they still had to file reports by hand. At least it gave his eyes a break from the computer.

Then again, the handwriting was so bad on half of them, he couldn't call it much of a break. He reached for the bottle of eye drops in his desk drawer. Damn, he was a cop. Not a paper pusher. At thirty-six, he had too many street years left in him to be riding a desk.

He tilted his head and dripped the fluid into each eye. Blinking, he waited for his vision to clear. He could insist everyone come in and transcribe the reports, then print them out. That would keep them in the office instead of on patrol, or would have them requesting overtime.

He picked up the first report. Car blocking a fire hydrant on Ash Street. Nice fine for that one. The council would be pleased. He kept going, perusing each piece of paper. Barking dog. Next.

Kids drinking under the high school bleachers. He allowed a brief mental trip to his own youthful escapades. At least his crowd had been smart enough to avoid the obvious haunts.

He flipped through the stack, looking for more of Vicky McDermott's reports, her neat printing a welcome break from Dunsworth's scrawl. Another alcohol incident, this one at Finnegan's. Triggered, apparently by an article in the Mapleton Weekly about whether the Holocaust actually happened. Undoubtedly one of Buzz Turner's articles, trying to parlay his job into one at a big-city press. Tabloid was more likely. Gordon rubbed his eyes.

Back to Dunsworth's hen scratches. Suspected drug use. He looked at that one a little more carefully. Mapleton didn't need drug problems. Officer smelled marijuana, but didn't find any hard evidence. Gordon checked the name. Willard Johnson. Not one he recognized. Address was Flo and Lyla Richardsons' B&B. Not a local, then. Table that one for now.

He groaned when he saw the next report. Mrs. Bedford again. More ghosts rearranging her merchandise. He'd told her to put in surveillance cameras, but she swore the ghosts wouldn't show up on tape. Yeah, but the customers who pick something up and put it back somewhere else would.

With a curse, he shoved his chair away from his desk and grabbed his jacket. Without breaking stride, he surged to Laurie's desk.

And here's the landscaped version(with annotations)

Gordon Hepler yawned and rubbed his eyes. Next time, he swore he'd send Vicky McDermott out to deal with Betty Bedford and her ghosts. He'd told her to put in surveillance cameras, but she swore the ghosts in her shop wouldn't show up on tape. Yeah, but the customers who pick something up and put it back somewhere else would.
This introduces one of the inciting incidents for the book. Why bury it?

Then again, dealing with the woman was a break from his normal routine as Mapleton's new Chief of Police. Budgets and paperwork. Damn, at thirty-six, he was too young to be riding a desk. He stared at the spreadsheet on his monitor. At this rate, he'd be blind before his contract was up for renewal.
Establishes who Gordon is, what he does, and some of his internal conflict.

A promise was a promise, he reminded himself. Even if the person you made it to wasn't around anymore.
Shows what motivates Gordon to continue doing a job he's not thrilled about.

He grabbed his eye drops from his desk drawer, tilted his head and dripped the fluid into each eye. Blinking, he waited for his vision to clear, then picked up the first night report. Car blocking a fire hydrant on Ash Street. Nice fine for that one. The Mapleton town council would be pleased.
Hints that pleasing the town council isn't high on his priority 'to do' list.

He continued through the stack. Mostly citizen complaints. Barking dogs, rowdy teens. He stopped at an altercation at Finnegan's Pub. Triggered, apparently, by an article in the Mapleton Weekly.

Gordon found his copy of the paper and turned to the article in question. Holocaust: Fact or Fiction? Great. Another one of Buzz Turner's articles, trying to parlay his job into one at a big-city press. Tabloid was more likely.
Introduces another character in the book, and another plot thread.

Drug use caught his eye on the next report and he looked more carefully. His town didn't need drug problems. Officer smelled marijuana, but didn't find any hard evidence. Gordon checked the name. Willard Johnson. Not one he recognized. Address was Flo and Lyla Richardsons' B&B. Not a local, then. Table that one for now.
Another plot thread/character introduction, shows his attitude toward "his" town, establishes it as a peaceful place … for now.

He shoved his chair away from his desk and grabbed his jacket. He stopped at Laurie's desk. "Anything urgent?"

So – maybe it's not edge of the seat, page turning suspense. But I don't write that, and I don't open with the dead body on page one. I hope I've created enough "what comes next?" interest in the reader. What do you think? After all, it's still a draft.

Oh, and what do you think of the landscaping now? Any more curb appeal?

More on the writing process tomorrow. Come back!

12 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Another excellent example, Terry. And I tweeted it, too! Aren't you so glad you're on Twitter now? (Don't answer that! :) )

Elizabeth
Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. And I won't answer yet!

Stay tuned -- tomorrow's topic: Pulling weeds.

Carol Kilgore said...

Better and better!

In both the manuscript and the yard you've stripped away the overgrowth and given us the highlights we like to see - both as readers and house hunters.

I love the way your palms (at least that's what they look like to me) have grown while fighting their way through the growth to reach the light. They're absolutely beautiful, and something a potential buyer wouldn't know had you not trimmed.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Carol. Those are palmettos, native to the area. They've had free rein on the property since long before it was developed, and they'd grown withough anything more than occasional trimming. There are just fewer of them in our "island" now.

And you're right - new buyers won't know what the 'before' looked like.

GunDiva said...

Good job with both the re-write and the landscaping. I'm dreading attempting re-writes, there's just so much to think about.

Terry Odell said...

GunDiva - the fun's in the rewriting. At least there's stuff there to work from. Blank pages are scary.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Terry,
Great blog. The re-write certinly enhanced your story, but I didn't think the original was too bad either. Loved your garden, gee, just my personal opinion, but I would have left the garden as it was, a-la-natural.

Cheers
Magaret

Terry Odell said...

Margaret - thanks on all counts. Part of editing is being able to take what looks fine and analyze it to make it better.

And if we weren't selling the house, we wouldn't have touched the yard. But consensus was it was a detriment to too many prospective buyers. It's also brought a lot more light to the inside, which is also a plus.

We'll have to see what happens.

Terry said...

I liked your notes on the re-write. Very helpful to me.

Also your home looks great! A little pruning never hurts anything.

Sheila Deeth said...

Stunning, and very effective analogy - the writing and the photographs. Wow. Thank you.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila, you're welcome. Glad it made sense.

Terry Odell said...

Sheila, you're welcome. Glad it made sense.