Does your pen write with a boring black ink or have you got an ink mixture of many different colours that bring your story alive? That’s what agents will be asking themselves as they open your manuscript.

Before you write another word, think about the reader you are entertaining with your wonderful story. I make no secret about loving Charles Dickens who captivated my imagination from an early age. I walk around the streets of London, touching his characters and listening to them talk and shout. I see and smell the scenery. I am caught up in the social ills of society and wrong-doings of devious villains of the day. Dickens pulls at my emotions, making me sad, glad, angry and thoughtful. I can’t help it. I have to read on. How does he do that?

The answer is very simple. When you have an outline for your work, you also have a fantastic plot and characters in mind. But will the agent get past the first five pages or will he or she be bored? Here are some tips.

Set the scene immediately so we know where and, if possible, when. John took his eyes off the newspaper photo of President Carter for a moment to look down on Coral Bay and the sprawling metropolis of Pafos baking in 90 degrees. We know who, where, when, and what it feels like in one sentence. We set the scene.

Introduce the character so we can see him and find out what he looks like and maybe what’s going on in his life. He brushed a few strands of grey hair out of his eyes, cuffed sweat from the side of his unshaven chin and thought about Andros. Crossing his long legs, he picked up the chilled glass and gulped the cold beer. We know he is middle aged, is unshaven, is sweating in the heat and is thinking about a Greek man. In a few paragraphs later on you can continue to describe John. If he is a main character, spread his description out within a couple of chapters.

What’s going on around John? There was a loud crash when a small red truck hit a deep pot hole as it pulled into the Blue Pelican Taverna parking lot and jerked to a stop in a cloud of dust. We know where John is and what is happening around him and can hear something going on. We also have something else going on. We know what a chilled beer tastes like but we feel a little irritated that John’s drink might be spoiled by a cloud of dust drifting across the parking lot. Can you begin to see and feel?


Now let’s see what that all looks like written with a pen filled with black ink.

John took his eyes off the paper he was reading and looked down on the bay. He brushed a few strands of hair out of his eyes and wiped sweat from his face. Thinking of Andros, he crossed his legs and picked up a glass of beer. A red pick-up crashed over a pot hole as it drove into the tavern parking lot and came to a halt in a cloud of dust.

So which version do you think is more entertaining? The second version leaves me wanting to know who John is and what he looks like and is this story in the future or the past? And where on earth is Coral Bay? The agent has got no further and rejected this uninteresting work even though it may be well written.

As you write, think colour all the time. Be in the picture and talk to the characters. If they are eating fish and chips, eat with them and smell the salt and vinegar. If they are drunk, let us know about the divorce or the hurt they have caused someone else, perhaps someone they love.

There are hundreds of images, smells, locations, characters’ make up and speech that should be going through your mind as you tackle each and every paragraph. Make it come alive in vivid colour. Practice makes perfect.

So book a chapter in our serials and have a go. Next time – Dialogue that agents love and hate.



Ray Stone

Publishing Manager