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Take-homes from Kate McKean

Cheryl's Musings: Take-homes from Kate McKean

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Take-homes from Kate McKean

Despite a last-minute decision to participate in a Read-and-Critique session, I obtained a Friday afternoon reading slot with agent Kate McKean at last weekend's PPWC conference. If you haven't participated in a R&C, see my May1 post for more info. They're intense, but give you a chance to receive feedback on your work in progress and to hear how an agent's mind works.

In this particular case, the agent was commenting on 15 lines of text--less than a single page--so I think the session held more benefit for the writers than the agents. We got to hear her on-the-spot comments on a dozen different manuscripts; she only got to hear whether we could write an intriguing hook and a few pleasing paragraphs. I'm glad I attended, though--I got to see another sharp-minded agent thinking on her toes!

Here are some tidbits gleaned from the session. They aren't necessarily "new," but they're so important for tight writing, they're worth repeating. These were her comments on polished, high-quality manuscripts:
  • Cut, cut, cut those adjectives

  • Cut, cut, cut excess dialog tags. (From me: after this session, I started paging through some of my favorite books to see how many tags published writers use. I was amazed! This is a lesson worth applying and re-applying to my own writing.)

  • Establish the world's rules within the first few paragraphs

  • Lists can be an effective form of description, but limit them to the five most effective items

  • Use specifics in the log line. Don't say "running for her life" but report why and from whom

  • Identify your purpose in every line of prose--and don't fulfill the same purpose twice.

  • You can often cut out the prologue or the first few paragraphs of a novel. They're often written to get the writer's gears moving, but they aren't necessarily the right place for the story to begin.

  • Point the reader's attention like a movie camera, focusing on what's important and not unnecessary details.

  • DO include visceral, clear images. For ex., a rat climbing onto a girl's hair to avoid drowning

If you read my May 1st post, you'll notice some similarities to the take-home from Laurie McLean's session. I don't think they pow-wowed beforehand: I think that writers everywhere need to cut and slash to make their writing the tightest, most powerful, clearest prose it can be.

Hmm. Does that mean that, as a writer, my main job is to cut out most of what I've written? That describes my rewriting process: I pare away words until one page of rambling reveals the one clear, powerful image underneath. That's my focus this week as I rewrite!!

:) Cheryl

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At May 7, 2008 at 2:50 PM , Blogger Yat-Yee said...

Don't cut so much that we lose your voice! Good notes.

At May 11, 2008 at 11:32 PM , Blogger The Once said...

Well, Happy Mother's Day, hope you have a great one... The notes were helpful as well. -waves- -Sammie


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