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How to Write a Novel in Six Months, Week 15 Drafting Update: Formulas and White Space

Updated on October 28, 2008

This week I plodded (and plotted) along making respectable progress on the novel. It’s hard to believe that I’m close to halfway through the first draft. At the same time, it doesn’t really seem an impossible task anymore. It’s simply a matter of doing the work. (Figuring out how to do that work was the hard part!) Breaking the process down into manageable steps has been the key. This week I learned some interesting things about just how an agent or publisher might look at your manuscript and made a startling discovery about white space and the length of my novel.

Formulas: Do You Have to Follow One?

Whether you call it structure, story, or formula, by all accounts it’s a whole lot easier to sell fiction if you follow some accepted form. This is not to say that your novel is simply a copy of something else. Your story is original. However, it’s important to understand the elements that make a novel satisfying to a reader. Of course there are rule breakers, and you may very well be one of them. I consider myself a student. Maybe one day I’ll break the rules, but right now I’m interested in improving my craft to the point that I can actually sell my work, create more, sell more, etc. (Chatting up Oprah is in the plan there somewhere too!)

So how important is structure? I heard an interesting story this week about a room full of editors flipping through a manuscript. Before I tell you how they evaluated it (on the surface) let’s take a minute to think about just how busy your typical editor or agent is. I’ve been reading agent blogs this week as part of my research to find one to represent my novel. One claimed to have received over 250 queries in one week! Of those, she asked for only 2 excerpts or manuscripts! Another received a smaller number of queries and asked for 25 manuscripts. Even if your query rocks and your full work is requested, how long do you think someone will spend with it?

Is Your Novel Structured Enough?

Back to the story… So apparently this room full of editors flipped the manuscript open to the dead middle to see if there was a major turning point there. They also checked out the 25% and 75% page markers to see if there were turning points there as well. I can just hear you snorting through the ether. Of course, this is extreme and I wouldn’t dream of telling you the hero must cross the first threshold at exactly page 100 of a 400 page novel. I wouldn’t tell you that.

However, a harried agent who’s read 163 synopsis this week and is simultaneously dealing with four rewrites and two deals in the making may just want to ensure that you know what the heck you’re doing before they sign you on the dotted line.

The Importance of White Space


Some of the editors paged through the manuscript and passed on it based on appearance alone! In commercial fiction (as in business writing) white space is crucial. These professionals could tell by the look of the pages alone that this particular manuscript wasn’t for them. A lack of white space indicates the following:

·        Too long paragraphs

·        Not enough dialogue

This is where I think my business background and writing for the web really pays off. I have a pretty good awareness of the look of the page. That’s not to say my pages are always pretty, but I’m aware of it.

Based on this new knowledge about structure and white space, I had a huge realization this week about the length of my novel. I’m writing in short chapters, about four to seven manuscript pages. I will have approximately eighty of these. As I write, I’m just putting in a few lines, but once I’m finished, I’ll start each section on a new page. That means I’ll probably add at least a half a page for each section. That’s forty pages! This is something I definitely need to keep in mind for my total length, because remember it’s not really the length of the story that matters but the page count! Be warned….

Next week – the quest for an agent continues!

How to Write a Novel in Six Months, One Writer’s Journey

Week 1, Mapping Out the Six Month Plan

Week 2, Resources on Structure

Week 3, Index Cards Are My Friends

Week 4, Sketching Characters

Week 5, Researching Agents

Week 6, Outlining

Week 7, Detail Scene Beats

Week 8, Writing the Synopsis

Week 9, Drafting Update

Week 10 Drafting Update

Week 11 Drafting Update

Week 12 Drafting Update

Week 13 Drafting Update: Writer’s Block 

Week 14 Drafting Update: Appreciating Plot and an Awful First Draft



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  • Lela Davidson profile image

    Lela Davidson 9 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

    Serenity, that is such a great tip! Thank you! It's a great idea to picture that book all glossed up and sitting on/flying off the shelves! Now, about a title.... so tricky. That'll be my next magical trick! Thanks for commenting - it keeps me going!

  • Serenity Live profile image

    Serenity Live 9 years ago from Midwest

    This is excellent information as always! I like this idea really - that a book is both a picture and its words. I certainly try to picture my book in print when I am writing it. Honestly, being between two covers with pretty art can make mediocre words seem more worthy. But when I'm the one writing the words, imagining them between cover art makes me want to make them better. This white space revelation is really going to help me as well!