John Sandford's Advice on How to Polish Your Manuscript - Jo-Ann Carson

John Sandford's Advice on How to Polish Your Manuscript

Small Things: Techniques and Ideas to Burnish Your Text

John Sandford (Thrillerfest, July 10, 2013)

  • About to release his 23rd Prey novel – Silk and Prey
  • Publishers want to see completed manuscripts
  • Avoid echoes (i.e., word repetitions) and
  • Do a search for empty words (eg., large, big, small) like empty calories
  • Likes to put spaces between sections – adding white spaces make the text easier to read
  • Check that your references are accurate (eg., time and distance)
  • Google Earth is a great reference for distance. He uses it a lot.
  • Main character has to be solid – describe them, but not just what they look like…
  • To describe his main character, Lucas Davenport, he has him take time dressing. The man is a clothes horse and takes great care in his looks, so it makes it easy for Sandford to describe him physically and at the same time show his character’s personality.
  • Work the 5 senses – odor is critical especially if it’s bad
  • Sensory details can be added at the last minute
  • He pays particular attention to the first and last chapter and makes sure he adds the sensory comments.
  • Usually writes between 25 and 30 chapters – Expects to add  200-300 words per chapter in his revision
  • Know your physical places (Sandford uses his own home over and over again for a house setting so he doesn’t mess up where things are from scene to scene)
  • Always have a specific model of a physical place in your mind
  • When revising be careful to not make unnecessary improvements (His example was he once replaced the word gun with Glock, but it screwed him up because Glocks don’t have a safety, and one was referred to later in the plot.  When people later complained he leaned on the fact that some after-market editions have a safety added.)
  • Try to avoid factual info in dialogue – it’s not how people talk
  • Dialogue is for levying the narrative – it loosens the text – makes it feel right
  • Check the dialogue in revision – is it stilted?
  • Remember people talk in short hand not long sentences – it has to sound right
  • Again – most important chapters are the first and last – they must be emotionally engaging – Action should start in the first paragraph
  • Last Chapter – want to end with a bang, have the reader smile, humor’s good too
  • Always have a wrap up chapter – like a tight little knot – succinct
  • Don’t let the end  peter out
  • After all things said “There isn’t any one way of doing things.”
  • He figures revisions improve his work by 20%
  • When asked by a member of the audience whether he recommended we have professional editors review our work before we submit it he answered: “No.” You can get too many cooks in the kitchen – you have to learn how to finish the book on your own.
  • “I want people to not want to stop reading.”

Please note: If any of these notes don’t make sense, the fault is mine. John Sandford delivered a riveting lecture. I scribbled as fast as I could while my mind reeled with thoughts on how I can improve my writing.

Next Wednesday: T. Jefferson Parker’s lecture from Thrillerfest on Outlining