Tell Me a Story (Part 1)

Having accentuated the negative in a previous post about submitting a manuscript to Lantern, I thought it might be advisable to give some idea to would-be authors of what a successful manuscript might look like in my particular eyes.

First off, being a compulsive teller of tall tales, I like a story: I like characters, I like plot, and I like being taken from one state of mind to another (without the use of intoxicants). That doesn’t mean the tale has to be simple: the characters can be complex, the plot can be full of twists and turns, and my journey doesn’t have to be linear. But I like to feel that the author is being arcane and willful for a reason, and I’ll receive a good payoff at the end: that “Aha! I get where this was all going now” moment as you close your book and stare into space and feel that your life, if only for a moment, has just been transformed.

All of this is hard to pull off successfully, even though it’s relatively simple to establish the outlines. In non-fiction, you’re probably saying to yourself, it seems impossible. Yet, as far as I’m concerned, the skills required for one are applicable to the other. The best prose stylists, in my judgment, use examples grounded in reality. They allow the facts and interviewees/characters to speak for themselves. They give us a feel for the places where the events take place; and they coax us into agreeing with them rather than bludgeoning us over the head with their conclusions. They resist abstractions; they minimize hortatory paragraphs demanding this or urging that; and they recognize the explanatory and emotive value of detail, incident, and context. They zero in to provide color, dispense aperçus rather than sweeping generalizations, and cultivate an intimate tone and voice rather than the thundering rhetoric of the keynote speaker at an outdoor rally. Reading’s suasive power is subtle, interior, and personal. Your audience will only tolerate so much yelling in their ears before they walk away.

In short, tell me a story. Do the same, and you might just get published at Lantern.

About martinrowe

I am the co-founder and publisher at Lantern Books, and the author, editor, and ghostwriter of several works of fiction and non-fiction. I live in Brooklyn, New York.
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