- Hook Your Reader from Page One
- Enhance the Narrative Drive
- Build Characters that Readers Will Root For
- Strengthen Your Plot
- Polish Your Prose
- Enjoy the Process
Contact LESLIE LEHR at Leslie@leslielehr.com (put “TWS” in subject line).
Ideal for translating your idea into a strong story or solving specific challenges.
You do indeed have x-ray story vision! I am so grateful and glad I found you!!!! – Joni Rendon, Novel Destinations, Writers Between the Covers
Your feedback was so detailed, it was everything I hoped it would be — Huma Syed, American Muslim
2. Jump Start
Do you have a story idea, but aren’t sure where to start? Leslie can help in four easy steps:
- First, she’ll discuss your goals, develop your premise, and shape your story with a powerful structure.
- Second, she’ll study your materials – from a synopsis, step breakdown, to properly formatted manuscript – up to 25 pages.
- Third, she’ll discuss opportunities to strengthen your story.
- Fourth, follow up to make sure you are on track.
3. Complete Manuscript Breakdown
Get practical tips for improving your characters, story structure, POV, plot, theme, and style. Includes detailed written evaluation, line notes, and follow-up phone call.
From flushing out a story arc to creating a solid structure, Leslie can make the difference between getting published or not getting published. — Samuel W. Gailey, Prize-winning author of Deep Winter
A master class in good writing. Leslie told me specifically how I might fix things. But she never imposed on me what I “must” do. Best money I ever spent. — Brad David, This Happy Wicked World
As a writing instructor, I recommend all my clients to Leslie for her extraordinary editing skills. I also found her expertise invaluable with my own book. – Lisa Leiberman-Doctor, Accidental Poetry
4. Query Letters
The right query letter is a sales tool that can open doors for your manuscript.
Brilliant query! Wow. I’ll refer all my students to you. — Lisa Doctor, Writing Instructor, novelist
Contact LESLIE LEHR at Leslie@leslielehr.com (put “TWS” in subject line).
— Writing the First Novel
— Novel II
— The Fine Art of Finding A Fiction Agent
— Creating Compelling Characters
— How to Hook Your Reader
— How to Write A Query Letter
Brad David, Author of This Wicked Happy World
airports and as a recommended read at Target. Her debut novel, 66 Laps, won the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal. Soon after, her screenplay, Heartless, was produced as an independent film. That romantic thriller financed five other films for its production company, aired on USA TV and has been screening worldwide for many years. Her novel, Wife Goes On, was a featured selection for the Pulpwood Queens Book clubs, and the related original screenplay, Club Divorce, was sold to Lifetime.
Lehr’s essays have been published in the New York Times Modern Love Column (“How I Got to Here,” June 23, 2013), The Huffington Post, and anthologies including Mommy Wars. “I Hate Everybody” was lauded on the Today Show, “Parenting Paranoia” was excerpted in Arianna Huffington’s bestseller, On Becoming Fearless, and “Welcome to the Club” is in the anthology, The Honeymoon’s Over. Lehr is a contributor to the Tarcher/Penguin Series “Now Write.”
With a B.A. from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Lehr is a popular panelist at literary and film conferences around the country. She’s a member of the Authors Guild, WGA, PEN, and AWP (the Association of Writers & Writing Programs).
by Leslie Lehr
“Narrative drive” is a favorite expression of agents, who need to see the engine that drives the story forward. Literally, what propels the narrative? My latest novel, What A Mother Knows, is a textbook example of the importance of narrative drive in today’s fiction marketplace.
In this article I’d like to talk about three techniques that turned my novel from a work of literature sitting on the shelf to a real page-turner that sold to a major publisher. Those techniques are:
1. Figuring out the right genres through which to tell the story
2. Breaking the story down into a scene list so that each scene is necessary and builds on the scenes that came before
3. Sequencing the reveals so the story picks up speed as it approaches the end
What A Mother Knows started out as a literary masterpiece – or so I thought. I wrote it twenty pages at a time for my thesis project when I earned my MFA. The story is about a woman who wakes up from a deadly car accident only to find she is accused of murder and her daughter, the only one who knows what happened, is gone. It was fun playing with the prose, and the lead character was a very different person before and after the accident. So I devised two story lines that alternated between past and present until they met up at the end.
The result was dark and angsty with fun flips of point of view, and I loved it. But my writer friends had trouble remembering the details from one storyline to the next. My agent wasn’t overwhelmed with it either. So I put it aside to write a quick commercial novel, Wife Goes On, which I sold from the outline along with a screenplay on the same concept. But I couldn’t let go of this story. So I decided to rewrite it with intense narrative drive to make it more exciting and more accessible to readers and publishers – a marriage of commercial and literary fiction.
The first technique was figuring out the right genres with which to tell the story, since genre has more effect on narrative drive than any other decision you make. There are a lot of elements that tell you the best genres for your particular story, but the first one I look for is the desire line of the hero. My hero’s main goal was to uncover a mystery: this woman was desperate to find her daughter and to discover what really happened that fateful day. That meant my novel was primarily a detective story. She also had everything to risk, which made it a thriller. And the story was set within the family, which added family drama as well.
Time for the wrecking ball. I started by smashing the story apart to make a new scene list, because the scene list is the clearest view of the architecture of the story. With the scene list, the bones of the novel are not hidden behind description and dialogue.
Then I put the scenes in the proper structural order. The main story had to be a present time page-turner of a woman relentlessly chasing her goal. I combined past scenes that had the same character having a revelation and used flashbacks only to help the character take action in the present. By reordering, combining, and eliminating scenes that didn’t support the goal, the story got stronger. Each character’s motivation was clearer, so the plot got thicker.
But there was still one more step to accomplish. Especially in a detective story, the revelations need to build and come at a progressively faster pace. So I constructed a revelation sequence, a list of every reveal in the story. I was able to change the order of revelations so they got bigger and came faster. Boom, boom, boom!
I thought I was all done. But making the sale always has detours where you have to be able to adjust. My agent loved the new story but asked me to develop the medical and legal themes. So I revised it again. Sure enough, my agent sold the book.
But my new editor asked me to take out 100 pages. Of course, you can’t just lop off 100 pages of a tightly woven tale, so I went back to the wrecking ball and broke it down, scene by scene, one more time. Again, I made a list of the revelations, to make sure the narrative drive was as intense as it could be. The editor loved the book.
Writers are fond of saying, “Writing is rewriting.” Wrong. Writing is rewriting with a plan, and that plan is all about increasing narrative drive. Ask any book agent; it’s what sells your novel.