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A Sprinkle of Sparkle

A Sprinkle of Sparkle

It’s your worst nightmare.  The editor at Blockbuster Publishing has sent you an email. She’s read your manuscript and she likes it but there’s one small problem (and this is where you stop breathing), your story needs more … sparkle.

Your heart sinks to your toes.

If only the editor had asked for something else. Anything else. More words. Less words. Words without the letter ‘e’. But asking for sparkle is like asking for a bag of fairy dust.

In my role as a writing tutor, I’ve read thousands of manuscripts and I’d say that sparkle is the element that writers find most elusive. A story can be competent, readable, even clever but in a competitive market, sparkle is the magic ingredient that will attract an editor.

There’s no recipe for sparkle but if you want to put an extra coat of gloss on your story, try this:

First save a new copy of your story - a copy that you will work on for this exercise. That way you’ll feel relaxed about making a ton of changes. You can always go back to your old sparkle-free version later. (Yeah, right.)


First read your story out loud. Don’t just mumble it to yourself. Stand up and make your delivery as entertaining as possible. Pretend you’re reading an excerpt at your book launch. There are some sentences, paragraphs and whole scenes that you know the audience will love, right? Gems that will have them giggling, or sighing or leaning forward in their seats. When you get to these engaging passages, colour them bright orange (use a highlighter).

There are also some bits of your story where the writing is flatter or the scene less interesting. Bits that might have your audience gazing at the freckle on your nose or wondering about Aunt Clara’s recipe for tomato bisque. Be honest – you know there are. These are the ho-hum bits you’d prefer to rush over or skip altogether. Colour these parts blue.

Now your aim is to get rid of as much blue as possible. First, ask yourself: What blue bits can I do without altogether? Be ruthless. If something isn’t pivotal to the story – ditch it.  If it’s repetitive or long-winded, cut it down or cut it out. I’m not just talking about isolated words but sentences, paragraphs or whole pages. You’d be amazed at how much tighter and pacier your story will become once you delete these bits.

In particular, cast a stern eye at your dialogue. Does it contribute anything to the story? Could your characters be more succinct? Is there a snappier way to deliver their lines? Could they be clever, witty, philisophical?

Your aim now is to turn your blue passages bright orange. Perhaps you could add some humour? Make a scene more dramatic or tense. Strengthen your verbs. (Why say ‘went’ when you can say ‘barrelled’ or ‘slunk’ or ‘prowled’?) Have a good hard look at this section, and get to work with a fresh approach.

Your story should now have a new edge. But you’re not finished yet. Your next job is to hunt down those mind-numbing clichés. Every time you find an old, worn out expression, underline it. It might be a tired simile like ‘as cold as ice’, or a too-familiar comment such as ‘her spine tingled.’ Each one needs to be replaced with something fresh. Be as creative as you can and bear in mind the tone and theme of your piece. Here’s what I mean:

In my first draft of  an alien story, I wrote: ‘Her face turned green.’ Dull. Dull. Dull. To fit with the space theme I changed it to: “Her face turned the colour of green cheese.’

Get the idea?

When you’re done, you will find that your story has taken on a whole new sheen. A glimmer of glitter, a dash of dazzle, a sprinkle of sparkle. With a bit of luck, the editor from Blockbuster Publishing will send you another email. One that says: the contract’s in the mail.

© Jill McDougall 2007
Jill has written over ninety books for children. You can find more writing tips at http://www.jillmcdougall.com.au

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