Monday, May 16, 2011


by Joan

A few years ago I read Jofie Ferrari-Adler’s interview with legendary agent Molly Friedrich. Ms. Friedrich said, “If I cry at three different points in a manuscript—even if it is lumpy, and overlong, and deeply flawed—then I am going to go to bat for it.”

Agents (and all readers for that matter) want to feel the emotion in your story, not just read about it. When I spend hours glued to a book, I’ve noticed the scenes that make me cry or sigh aloud with joy, incorporate small, intimate moments which connect me to characters, let me feel their pain, such as when CeeCee Honeycutt was faced with wearing a look-a-like of her mother’s pageant dress, when Little Bee wished she were a gold coin (actually almost any page in Chris Cleave's book), and the ending scene of Julie’s manuscript (no spoilers!).

I’m afraid over the next several months my posts might take an emotional turn as well. My only son graduates from high school this week and, in a few short months, he’ll be headed to college. When I look back on the manuscript of his life, I’ve cried more than three times—mostly tears of joy, but also tears of pain. Like most parents, over the years we’ve taken plenty of photos, but this last school year I snapped one each morning, roughly 180 photos.

The pictures that make me laugh and cry are the close-focus pics he took of himself when I overslept, the out-of-focus scenes where he’s running out the door, and the scene where he fell flat on the floor after receiving a run of college acceptances.

At my other blog, I’ll be running a series of posts about what the experience meant to me, and to him. Maybe I’ll even get him to run a few posts.

I’m doing a last run through of my manuscript, The Architect at Highgate, before sending it to my beta readers and I’m looking for places to up the emotion. I’ve created complicated, intersecting plot lines and sprinkled in themes and significant artifacts that appear in both centuries. My job as a writer is to make sure those added details not only create a sense of time and place, but hold true meaning to both the characters and the plot. I need to make sure I haven’t missed any opportunities to make my reader laugh and cry.

It’s lucky I’m working on the picture-a-day project while I’m putting the finishing touches on Highgate. In remembering these moments, I’ll likely be surprised at what makes me cry. The out-of-focus scenes not only show him in a hurry, but they remind me of the interminable spirit he'll leave behind--a spirit we'll miss every day.

As I go through my manuscript, I’ll add a few twists to the lumpy and deeply-flawed passages, and find ways to weave in the surprising and human moments that connect a reader emotionally to the story.

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