I often encounter developing fiction writers and memoirists who have voice in spades but who haven’t yet acquired full control over their story and characters. An inimitable writerly voice is the holiest of holies for all of us. But voice without accompanying mastery over the story is not enough, whether your work is a commercial thriller or capital-L “Literary.” A reader can sense when a writer is still puzzling out the meaning of the story they’re telling and, as a result, when the characters aren’t as dimensional and rich as they should be. Books with narrative threads that crisscross and meander without ever cohering—peopled by underdeveloped characters held from the reader at a distance—lead to passes from agents and editors in the following vein:
It never quite added up to something larger for me, something urgent and necessary. (Many industry professionals are addicted to “quite.”)
I was never fully emotionally invested in the characters.
The story felt like it was skimming the surface.
I lost the thread and wasn’t sure where it was heading.
I just wasn’t swept away.
Often authors write a pitch for their book at the latest stage possible, only because they must do so before they query or submit to editors, and I think that’s a missed opportunity. I recommend that you compose an elevator pitch for your book and your longer “jacket copy” description as soon as possible in your drafting process—and revisit and revise them often. This starter copy can be your blueprint—your anchor during the exploratory, intuitive process of drafting—and is an invaluable diagnostic tool in revision. Observe where you feel the instinct to describe greater emotions and stakes for your characters in this copy than currently exist on the page of the narrative. Which themes do you reference that are missing entirely or should be amplified? Perhaps pinpointing where you have the instinct to fudge in your project’s pitch will guide your revision and show you how to marshal your story and character depictions into a fully realized, vital tour de force that will never, ever summon a “quite” from a reader—from the publishing industry or otherwise.
—Margaret Sutherland Brown, Folio Literary Management