Back in January when I attended the writer's conference in San Diego I had an opportunity I was both thrilled and terrified to do. One part of writer's conferences and conventions is the chance to talk one on one with agents, publishers and others in the industry. I took the time to set up advanced reading appointments with two different agents in order to get feedback on a couple of my works in progress. Of course there was the hope one or both would be interested in acquiring the books they read but mostly I was looking for their suggestions to strengthen the story.
For my thriller series I received several tips that while difficult to hear (basically told me I had to scrap everything I had sent him) he gave me a good amount of information to improve what I decide to keep and how to move it forward with a better pace. He also called me out on something I think I did subconsciously. I had put in a suspenseful scene right at the beginning that has a very benign outcome and he said he would have stopped reading right there. It was drama for the sake of drama, not to move the story forward. He was right. He also told me that if I am going to make a character "lose it" and make people wonder about their mental state I need to go over the top. You can always pull back but if a character is too subtle it is difficult to make them seem crazy later. The last piece of advice was that real life actions such as being clumsy and dropping things repeatedly or being able to sleep right after a traumatic event do not seem realistic in books.
The second book I submitted was Sharing Strength. The agent I met with for that book had some similar things to say but the two things she focused on were dialogue (I suck at dialogue) and point of view. For the dialogue, which the first agent mentioned as well, she told me to go through the scenes either alone or if possible with another person to read the dialogue out loud. When I hear the words I will be able to hear the parts that either sound scripted or just off for the situation. Once I identify the parts that sound wrong, do it again so that I can hear what natural speech would sound like. Try to use a voice recorder to capture the two different conversations so I can hear the difference. Eventually it should help to start writing speech more naturally from the beginning.
The point of view part was an eye opener. The part I had sent to her was the opening chapter and the beginning of the second one. The first one has all of the six main characters in the book all together. Because they are all in the scene the point of view jumps from person to person which I did not realize but does one of two things to the reader. It can either confuse them by making them have to guess which character is talking or it can create a huge distance between the reader and the story, making it difficult to care. I had wanted a surface overview but it was so far away that she found herself not feeling anything for the characters at all. She told me to pick one character for each chapter (two at the most) and show that entire chapter from their view point. For the scenes when they are all together I should pick one character to be in charge of those so the reader has a constant. Then name the chapters after the characters that are in charge of those scenes.
As I go through and rewrite all of my books I am doing my best to keep these tricks in mind. For most books the point of view part isn't as difficult because I only have one or two main characters but being as clear as possible is definitely something I am keeping in mind. The dialogue will come once I finish the editing process or get to scenes with a large part as speech. It is incredible what we learn just from a few minutes of feedback with industry professionals that can help move our work forward.