I’m almost done doing a developmental edit on a memoir. The feedback the writer had received from readers and agents was that the manuscript didn’t “flow.”
I read the manuscript and sent it back to the writer with my suggestions, and she then sent it back to me corrected for a second read through. Wow! What a difference. She implemented my suggestions and the change was significant.
So, today, I’d like to offer you five tips for achieving flow in your memoir:
- Include a clear timeline. The reader needs to know when things are happening, how much time has passed, and what events led up to others. Don’t assume a reader will just figure this out or be propelled along by the story. This is especially true if your story takes place over a long period of time. You will be skipping over weeks and months. Be sure you create a sense of time moving over those skipped periods. The reader needs to arrive smoothly at the new point in time.
- Use an active voice. Even if you write in the present tense, try to avoid passive writing. Passive sentences make your writing just that–passive. Passive writing causes your writing to feel sluggish and the reader to feel mired down in the story. If you write in an active manner, your sentences will possess energy. Active verbs propel the reader along.
- Don’t create questions in the reader’s mind. Make sure you don’t leave loose ends, such as how you met someone, if you became friends with that person, why you traveled to a place you suddenly say you have decided to visit, why you did something, how you felt about something, etc. These create questions in the reader’s mind. If the reader has a question, he will stop to ponder the question and consider possible answers. By providing the answers in the form of all the necessary information, you allow the reader to continue right through the book without issue.
- Stay on topic. If you have information in the story that seems ancillary, explain how it relates or show how it ties in to the theme of the book. Otherwise the reader may feel you’ve gone off on a tangent and get lost of bored.
- Use transitions. Even when using vignettes or other short anecdotal devices, be sure to find a way to tie everything together. Transitions can help avoid having your memoir read like a bunch of short vignettes thrown together. And be sure your vignettes follow the time line; one too many out of place as an artistic way of showing what is to come, for example, can send the reader reeling never to quite get back on the story line again.
Last, don’t be so attached to your draft that you don’t listen to your editor; yet, stick to your guns when you feel really strongly about some aspect of your manuscript. Developmental editing constitutes a team effort.