a Children's Book in 14 Days
A Sprinkle of
by Jill McDougall
Its your worst nightmare. The editor
at Blockbuster Publishing has sent you an email.
Shes read your manuscript and she likes it but
theres one small problem (and this is where you
stop breathing), your story needs more
Your heart sinks to your toes.
If only the editor had asked for something else. Anything
else. More words. Less words. Words without the letter
e. But asking for sparkle is like asking for
a bag of fairy dust.
In my role as a writing tutor, Ive read thousands
of manuscripts and Id say that sparkle is the
element that writers find most elusive. A story can be
competent, readable, even clever but in a competitive
market, sparkle is the magic ingredient that will attract
Theres no recipe for sparkle but if you want to put
an extra coat of gloss on your story, try this:
First save a new copy of your story - a copy that you
will work on for this exercise. That way youll feel
relaxed about making a ton of changes. You can always go
back to your old sparkle-free version later. (Yeah,
First read your story out loud. Dont just mumble it
to yourself. Stand up and make your delivery as
entertaining as possible. Pretend youre reading an
excerpt at your book launch. There are some sentences,
paragraphs and whole scenes that you know the audience
will love, right? Gems that will have them giggling, or
sighing or leaning forward in their seats. When you get
to these engaging passages, colour them bright orange
(use a highlighter).
There are also some bits of your story where the writing
is flatter or the scene less interesting. Bits that might
have your audience gazing at the freckle on your nose or
wondering about Aunt Claras recipe for tomato
bisque. Be honest you know there are. These are
the ho-hum bits youd prefer to rush over or skip
altogether. Colour these parts blue.
Now your aim is to get rid of as much blue as possible.
First, ask yourself: What blue bits can I do without
altogether? Be ruthless. If something isnt pivotal
to the story ditch it. If its repetitive or
long-winded, cut it down or cut it out. Im not just
talking about isolated words but sentences, paragraphs or
whole pages. Youd be amazed at how much tighter and
pacier your story will become once you delete these bits.
In particular, cast a stern eye at your dialogue. Does it
contribute anything to the story? Could your characters
be more succinct? Is there a snappier way to deliver
their lines? Could they be clever, witty, philosophical?
Your aim now is to turn your blue passages bright orange.
Perhaps you could add some humour? Make a scene more
dramatic or tense. Strengthen your verbs. (Why say
went when you can say barrelled
or slunk or prowled?) Have a good
hard look at this section, and get to work with a fresh
Your story should now have a new edge. But youre
not finished yet. Your next job is to hunt down those
mind-numbing clichés. Every time you find an old, worn
out expression, underline it. It might be a tired simile
like as cold as ice, or a too-familiar
comment such as her spine tingled. Each one
needs to be replaced with something fresh. Be as creative
as you can and bear in mind the tone and theme of your
piece. Heres what I mean:
In my first draft of an alien story, I wrote: Her
face turned green. Dull. Dull. Dull. To fit with
the space theme I changed it to: Her face turned
the colour of green cheese.
Get the idea?
When youre done, you will find that your story has
taken on a whole new sheen. A glimmer of glitter, a dash
of dazzle, a sprinkle of sparkle. With a bit of luck, the
editor from Blockbuster Publishing will send you another
email. One that says: the contracts in the mail.
Jill McDougall. All Rights Reserved.
Jill has published
over a hundred books for children and is busily working
on her next 100. Her latest novel is Jinxed!
(published by Walker Books).
find more writing tips at Jills website http://www.jillmcdougall.com.au and download a free preview of her
ebook: Become a