Pay attention to that subtitle because it describes Alice Orr’s book better than the title does. The kinds of manuscripts, however, are mainly genre novels. Nonfiction writers need not apply, unless they want to switch to popular writing. She is eminently qualified to pass along insider secrets to success, having worked in the book industry as a literary agent, an editor, and an author, as well as being a teacher and lecturer on writing and publishing.
The 50 chapters cover the field of genre fiction writing from coming up with story ideas through promoting yourself as a professional author and getting an agent. The fundamentals of novel writing — characterization, plotting, special scenes, conflict, style, and endings — are amply covered. Most chapters are punctuated with sections called “Crossroads: An Author Self-Interrogation” and “Are You There Yet?: A Hands-On Exercise” that accentuate the lesson and drive it home for those who learn by doing.
Many points are illustrated with real life examples from Orr’s knowledge and experiences working both sides of several desks as well as examples of manuscripts that have been rejected. She shows you what will work and what will not (how to please an editor). Orr employs many of the techniques she probably used as an editor to keep readers interested and to make the information more easily retained. Bulleted lists and font changes alert you to important sections.
About in the middle of the book is a chapter titled “The Middle of Things — Drama or Doldrums?” This is a very important part for fiction writers still struggling for success or ones just beginning their writing careers. Why? Everyone knows a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. What they may not realize is that most of a novel is the middle.
“Sagging in the middle” is a frequent complaint of critique partners, editors and even the authors themselves. Either the writer runs out of steam or tries to pad the manuscript where it might not be noticed. Orr’s description of the middle of the book is quite succinct: “Obstacles arise to your protagonist’s goal and must be overcome.” She also notes, “The biggest deal, when it comes to a storytelling challenge, is the middle.”
She describes the problems that writers often have with their middles, such as dropping the threads of the plot line, digressions, slowing the pace of action, and failing to develop the main character. Orr advises the readers to watch and learn from movies, especially action-driven ones like Jaws and character-driven flicks like The Verdict.
From the films, writers learn that “Conflict is the key to creating, concocting,, and imagining the kinds of events that will avoid the bogged-down middle….” Orr offers a list of a dozen suggestions for establishing and developing conflict in your novel. So, if conflict is the key, then her dozen suggestions are the true secrets to writing a manuscript that sells.