A Tale of Two Manuscripts, by Jim Hart

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A Tale of Two Manuscripts, by Jim Hart

This week in our office we were enthusiastically talking about a couple of manuscripts that had strongly captured our attention. And no, we won’t tell you who the authors are or the titles of the books (yet).

I remarked that while I was reading a a particular new manuscript I noticed my heart was beating faster. It’s been way too long time since I read a book that contained such a heart pounding scene.  Joyce also said the manuscript she was reading caused her heart beat to quicken.

Both of these novels were different genres, but they had similarities. What was it that brought such as enthusiastic response from us?  Here are three very basic things, in no particular order:

The writing (duh)

One manuscript would land in the literary category. It invited the reader to linger on a sentence.  You can tell the author has both a love for, and command of, the English language.  Aren’t you amazed when a writer weaves together words that create an unexpected tapestry?

The other manuscript was very succinct in its approach to telling the story.  This one did not use superfluous language to convey the story. It would have killed the pace. And yet, there were still so many lines that I found to be just brilliant. (I took notes). C40ULVCTJL

In both cases, the authors knew their craft and wielded their vocabulary appropriately.

We’re also pretty sure that both writers had enlisted a free-lance editor to go through their manuscript already, which in today’s market, is a good thing to do. Even though you’ll work with an editor at your publishing house, there’s something to be said for turning in a really clean manuscript.

The plot.

One thing we tend to say in our office is that there are basically just seven plots for stories. (I don’t know if that’s true or not, someone should probably Google it.)  But the plots of these two stories were believable, and yet not at all mundane. There were great twists, and in both stories the writers had tied everything up nicely by the conclusion. There was appropriate ebb and flow – just enough of an opportunity to catch your breath. So in this respect, great pacing by these writers let the plot live and breathe and grow in a strong fashion.

The characters.

I realized in the midst of our conversation that we were also strongly drawn to the characters in both manuscripts. They became alive in our minds. We shared their memories, held our breath during conflicts, and prayed that everything would turn out ok.  Readers love (demand) characters that are not one-dimensional. We identify with their flaws, and admire their strengths.

Giving characters their own unique voice is often easier said than done.  And doing so in a way that creates compelling individuals on the page is a joy to read.  It goes a long way in creating  empathy for the protagonist. And disdain for the antagonist!

So there you have it – three components of a manuscript that need to be equally strong in order to succeed.

What have you read lately that just sent your heart racing? And why?



  1. Ron Estrada says:

    I write middle grade and YA, Jim, and read accordingly, of course. I just finished LISTEN, SLOWLY by Thanhha Lai. I put off reading this book because nothing about the jacket blurb drew me in. It is the story of a 12 year old California born and raised girl of Vietnamese parents. She is roped into traveling to Vietnam with her father and grandmother because her grandmother has received word that her husband may be alive, forty years after he was assumed killed in the war. The book, of course, follows the journey of the girl as she learns about her ancestral home and, of course, about herself. Two chapters into the book, I was fully engaged with all the characters, especially those in their Vietnamese village.

    This was a book that had my heart racing and my Kindle on until the late hours. Middle grade books like this are quickly becoming my favorite genre. I probably would have benefited more as a kid had I read books like this instead of Stephen King.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. As we speak, I’m about an inch and a half away from hiding under the covers with my ten-year-old’s library book, devouring the last few chapters alone, and plotting a plan to pretend I waited for her so that we could finish reading the book together. I never knew there was a children’s version of Oscar Wilde’s novel, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. And because it’s been years since I jumped into this story, it’s as if I’m reading its details for the very first time. I miss the longer, literary style of the original version, but I have to admit the rapid succession of trauma, tragedy, and wonder in this rendition of DORIAN GRAY not only has my heart pounding, but also has me wondering which of its profound themes is the one from which I will never recover.

    • jim says:

      Should I admit that my introduction to many classics was through CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED? Probably as a kid that’s where the love of the story began to grow! Although in the past year I found great graphic novel versions of THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP. I haven’t read them yet, though. LOL – that makes it sound like I just read comic books, but I haven’t read one for decades!

  3. Yes, this is what an agent is always on the lookout for. Thank you Jim for explaining it so well. But also as a reader, when I find such gems, I then devour all of their other stories. One author that continues to delight me is Sarah Addison Allen. Her general market fiction is magical, and fast paced. I tend to keep the midnight oil burning – often blinking to keep going. I want to see if the story is going to turn out like I am hoping. She always satisfies. I just completed her First Frost, which I really liked, but it was her title, Garden Spells that won me as a fan.

    • jim says:

      When I first read the DUNE series I burned a lot of midnight oil! I read the first DUNE book in two days while waiting to be picked for a jury.

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