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Take-homes from Laurie McLean

Cheryl's Musings: Take-homes from Laurie McLean

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Take-homes from Laurie McLean

On my first day of the conference, I had the chance to sit in on a Read-and-Critique session with agent Laurie McLean ( If you've never been to a R&C, here's how it works: writers bring a page or three of their WIP (preferably the first pages, usually specified in the R&C rules,) read them to a small audience that includes an editor or agent, and the editor/agent provides deep and life-changing comments in 3-5 minutes. Usually a session moderator sits in the corner, stopwatch in hand, to make sure everyone sticks to the schedule--which means that everyone who signed up gets a chance to read. It's a little scary to be the author in the hot seat, but is a great opportunity to 1) share your work with an audience, and 2) receive feedback from an industry professional. And although it seldom occurs, most of us continue to hope that the editor or agent will swoon in admiration and offer a contract on the spot.

IMO, it's also incredibly difficult for the editor/agent to formulate intelligent comments in this setting. That said--Laurie McLean impressed me with her ability to pick out what did and didn't work in the pieces presented. She's blunt, but so darned good-humored that you can't take offense--especially if you really do attend with the intent to learn rather than the intent to find a fairy godmother agent.

Here are some bits of writing wisdom gathered from her comments:
  1. In fantasy or paranormal, define unusual rules or objects in the first few pages. Make sure the story is magical up front so the reader isn't confused, for instance, about whether the MC is human or elf.

  2. Cut scene details that the reader will already know.

  3. Keep text tight, tight, tight! Less is more. For instance, "tin can with wings" is better than "tin can with wings that I used to fly in".

  4. And on the same theme--choose your details wisely. If you're using two descriptions in the same sentence, see if you can cut one. What adds the most to your setting, story, and mood?

  5. Cut excess dialog. A little goes a long way and too much is cumbersome.

  6. Streamline text so that the action is clear.

  7. Be careful not to introduce too much (too many characters, too much background info, too many plot details) too quickly.

  8. Prologues don't belong in a story except when absolutely essential. Usually, prologues are cheats to get the reader hooked in the story.

  9. Exception: prologues are often useful in a thriller, especially used to show a scene that happens before the story in which a character dies.

  10. Know your genre so you can avoid overdone plots, story concepts, and characters.

To sum up: LESS IS MORE. I'm going to post that over my computer as I rewrite!


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