editing, Literary critique, Stories, Writers Co-op

We read it with interest but…

– by Curtis Bausse

I recently had to write a rejection letter to an author and friend whose stories have previously appeared in two anthologies I’ve edited. This time, her submission didn’t make it. Not that it wasn’t charming, interesting and well-written. It just didn’t make the sort of impact we would have liked.

She wasn’t upset. At least, if she was, it didn’t show in the reply she sent. In my letter I had concluded: If it’s any consolation, my own story was rejected too. She answered that she hoped that the rejection I sent myself was as nice as the one I sent her.

That my story was rejected will come as a surprise to my fellow editors, who never knew (until reading this) that I submitted one, as I remove all author names before forwarding the stories to them. But once I’d smashed all the crockery, I wasn’t upset either. And now I’ve taken up the suggestion to write myself a rejection letter.

Dear Mr. Bausse,

Thank you for your submission to The Rabbit Hole Volume 2. We read your story with interest; however we feel unable to include it because frankly, the ending sucks.

Now admit it, Bausse, you knew that, didn’t you? So why didn’t you do something about it? Thought you could get away with it, eh? Well, The Rabbit Hole is not that sort of publication – shoddiness just won’t do.

We wish you the best of luck in placing your piece elsewhere.

Yours etc.

It’s quite true. I did know the ending was feeble. I’d tinkered with it a bit, made it longer, then longer still, then cut it down to a single sentence. But thanks to my co-editors, I now know that it doesn’t matter how long or short it is, it’s not the right ending. The thing is, though, I can’t think of another one. I regularly make suggestions for other people’s endings, but my own? Zilch.

So here it is. Because there’s one good thing about being an editor here – it may have been rejected but I get to foist it upon you anyway, in the hope that you’ll be able to give me a better ending. Any ideas? (Note the sly presupposition, by the way – that the ending may be crap but the rest of it isn’t. But if you think the beginning and middle are crap too, don’t hesitate to say so. I’ve got a new pile of crockery, dirt cheap.)

  You’re Not Late

“Take this day, wear it well, enjoy it, darling, you deserve it.”

Abel’s wife stirred just enough to brush her lips against his cheeks and murmur, “You too, darling, I love you.”

He tiptoed out of the room. It was five o’ clock in the morning.

Once in the car he updated the Carmate Companion, which now came in three different voices: Cindy, Lisa and Cliff. He selected Lisa and told her to find the quickest route to his destination. She asked if he wanted music or news. He chose Mozart.

The streets were empty at that time but he drove with care because every so often a squall of rain would whip the windscreen and wash the town away. Once he almost hit a dustbin that was rolling drunkenly at a crossroads. On the outskirts of town bits of garden had broken out to foray into the unknown. “Be careful,” said Lisa over the music. “Conditions are hazardous due to gale force winds.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Abel sarcastically. He’d have to talk to Giles Roffe about that. No one wants to be told what they know already.

He joined the motorway, heading north. He hadn’t slept well, and the road being straight and smooth, he felt his concentration slipping. “Got something livelier? I need to stay awake. Springsteen?”

“I’ll put you through to Cindy. That’s more her department.” Lisa sounded hurt – You don’t like Mozart? Fuck you! – which Abel thought was something else he’d have to bring up with Roffe. Warmth, solicitude, empathy – fine, bring ’em on! But who wants a Carmate getting uppity?

Not that it surprised him. Roffe had a serious attitude problem. Something to do with his childhood, no doubt – Abel wasn’t about to analyse it – but the man just couldn’t hack authority. A loner, too, which was a shame. With a little more effort, a touch of good grace, he could have been up there with the big boys, working on Carmate Complete. He certainly had the talent – all he lacked was the commitment, the motivation.

“You remember the faces, the places, the names” – thumping the wheel now, belting it out with Bruce – “You know it’s da da da da da the rain, Adam raised a –”

“Accident ahead!” Cindy was under orders to interrupt. “Caution!”

He stopped singing. The sound of the wipers took over. “Serious?” But Cindy didn’t answer.

Whatever causes them – human error, mechanical flaw or something wrong with your luck that day – accident scenes have a logic of their own, and by the time he got to it, the compulsory components of this one were already there: flashing lights, yellow jackets and the dumb, useless tailback in which he was duly trapped.

After some minutes of drumming his fingers on the wheel he got out to assess the damage – not to the vehicles involved, but to his chances of making the appointment on time. He got as close as he could but didn’t linger: a lorry on its side, contents vomited over the tarmac, and half a dozen crumpled cars in the fast lane told him the chances weren’t good.

“Why,” he asked, “didn’t you tell me to get off at the last exit?”

“Why,” said Cindy coolly, “didn’t the police tell you to get off at the last exit?”

“What do you mean?”

“They didn’t have time, Mr. Abbott.”

The answer wasn’t just wrong, it was insolent. The whole point about Carmate was that it reacted quicker than the police. “No one’s asking you to close down a motorway. Just to get me to my destination on time.”

Cindy left a slight pause. “You’d already passed the exit when the accident occurred.”

Abel didn’t answer. He wondered when the Companions had acquired a capacity to lie.

“Have no fear, Mr. Abbott. You can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel jabbed a finger at the screen and switched back to Lisa and Mozart.

The thing you have to remember is that every new day is yours – take it for the gift that it is, cherish it, use it well. Every morning, that was the message Abel greeted his staff with, and now he summoned its power to use on himself. Even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, worried you might not reach your appointment, never forget that every day is a gift. When at last, over an hour later, he was able to squeeze through a gap in the debris on the hard shoulder, he reckoned he should still get there with a good half hour to spare. “I feel great,” he shouted, “you feel great, we all feel great – Carmate!” Then he kept the music low and concentrated on driving as fast as conditions would allow.

“Take the next exit off the motorway… Right at the roundabout, third exit… Straight on at the roundabout, second exit…” Lisa was reassuringly calm, informing him every so often of his expected time of arrival: 8:21, 8:18, 8:14. Once he’d built up a cushion of fifty minutes, he eased off the pace and relaxed.

“Right at the traffic lights four hundred yards ahead.”

“What?”

“Flooding is expected further on. Turn right here to avoid it.”

He slowed to a crawl, deliberately waiting for the lights to turn red. “What do you mean ‘expected’? Is there or isn’t there?”

“The river is rising rapidly, Mr. Abbott.”

What river? This was a major trunk road, for God’s sake. It couldn’t get flooded!

“The lights are green,” said Lisa at the same time as the car behind him sounded its horn.

Abel swore as he furiously swung to the right. “You’d better know what you’re doing, Goddamit! My promotion hangs on this appointment. If I’m late…”

“You can never be late with Carmate,” Lisa informed him, before adding coldly, “If you’d rather be with Cindy…”

“No!” He sat up straight, gripping the wheel tighter. “Just get it right, that’s all.”

“The detour will add another eighteen minutes. Turn left at the next junction, three hundred yards ahead. I advise you to slow down.”

He obeyed. No point risking an accident, after all. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if he got there a little late. He’d say there’d been a problem at home, a burst pipe, a burglary, whatever. He couldn’t say a Carmate Companion had kept him stuck on the motorway for an hour.

Out in the country, the absence of illumination was unnerving: suddenly there’s nothing but the beam from the car, gulping up the dotted white lines, a vague awareness of hedges on either side, trees gyrating wildly, and lashes of rain more vicious now, more determined. Then Lisa made him take a left and it wasn’t a road but a lane, and instead of white lines there were puddles and potholes and branches.

He stopped. “You’ve made a mistake.”

“In two and a half miles, turn right. Estimated time of arrival, 8:42.”

Grudgingly, warily, he put the car in gear. “Eight-forty, my arse,” he muttered. “Be bloody midday at this rate.”

“You don’t believe me.” Lisa’s voice was sad. “I’ve done all I can, Mr. Abbott. I’ll put you through to Cliff.”

“Wait!”

“Goodbye, Mr. Abbott.”

“Hello, Mr. Abbott.”

“What the…? Giles?”

“My name’s Cliff, Mr. Abbott. Please keep driving. You don’t want to be late.”

“What are you playing at, Roffe? Get me back on the road right now!”

“How are you feeling, Mr. Abbott?”

Abel poked his thumb at the screen, trying to switch it off, but Giles Roffe’s voice kept coming. “Don’t get in a state, you feel great, you can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel brought the car to a halt and slammed his fist at the screen. “I’ll get you for this, Roffe! I swear you’re gonna pay for this, you hear?”

The face on the screen smiled. “Don’t get in a state. You’re not late. The minute, the hour, the date. Right on time, Mr. Abbott. Your appointment.”

Abel managed to open the door but not to get out. The oak tree smashed into the car.

 

 

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About Writers, editing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

CO-OP ADVICE

This was originally a Facebook post but, after being accosted with some new pitches for Kickstarter, Indie Go, and others, I decided to flesh it out. Think of these as bullet points to avoid tragedy. I know I’m not really the answer man but I do, occasionally, have useful information to impart. This is for my fellow creators.

First, I cannot emphasize this enough, make sure your writer is fluent in the language you are using. “I so too saw this” and “much to the good are I doing” aren’t actual phrases in English. “Gehrn habe ich es” doesn’t work in German. I could go on but I’d rather not. And, yes, those are actual quotes. If you can’t afford an editor at least get a grammar assistance program. Grammerly may hate the Oxford comma, and can be annoyingly pedantic, but it’s still better than some of the stuff that’s been foisted into my inbox. If your pitch, or jacket cover blurb, is filled with typos, and/or bizarre grammar, the odds are heavily against you getting anyone to take you seriously. Also, just FYI, spell check is not your friend. Eye sea ewe will not get flagged.

Second, I get it that everyone has an awesome epic adventure to tell. Even so, it won’t kill you to run your basic plotline through Google to see if anyone else has told your awesome epic adventure. Your character goes back in time and becomes Jesus? Cool. It’s been done, done well, and won awards. Yours better be unique or it will pale by comparison. Or, as one author who makes goo gobs of cash told me; “Every story has been told, except yours. So tell that one.”

Third, if you plan on using some old gods to liven up your story, please make sure you know more about them than their names. There are people who do nothing but study ancient theologies and they’ll rip you a new one if you screw it up. Of course you can put your own spin on them, they’re fictional, but make it clear you’re doing so. That said, if you’re going to use gods or prophets who are currently being worshipped, tread lightly. There are three billion people who practice Islam. Making Muhammad a gangster rapper isn’t going to win you any friends.

Yes, someone did that. No, it didn’t get published.

Fourth, if your pitch requires more genres than adjectives you’re in trouble. Your Y/A sci-fi urban melodrama set in a women’s prison on Ganymede run by faeires better be purposefully funny as hell or you’re doomed.

Fifth, if your response to a Nebula winning writer (not me, not yet anyway) who offers help is “Fuck off! What do you know about anything?” you’re destined to a life stuck in your parents basement screaming at pigeons. Just FYI, I was in the library with the afore-referenced writer, whose name and picture were on the posters announcing their arrival, when this happened. They did not respond to the pigeon person and we went out for drinks instead. I was fine with that.

Sixth, if your cover art is actually someone else’s cover art, you’re an idiot. And an asshole. Yes, I have seen this happen … twice. Something tells me I haven’t seen the last of it either. Just cutting out someone’s title doesn’t make it your art. There are plenty of services out there where you can pay a tiny fee for an image. Go, invest in one. Or hire a pro. They are more cost effective than you might imagine.

Last, but certainly not least, if someone offers you help they are not offering to do all the work for you. If that’s what you want, pull out a credit card (preferably yours so no one goes to jail) and pay them.

Okay, rant over, you may now return to your regularly scheduled internet.

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editing, Literary critique, Stories, Writers Co-op Anthology

We read it with interest but…

rejection-letter

I recently had to write a rejection letter to an author and friend whose stories have previously appeared in two anthologies I’ve edited. This time, her submission didn’t make it. Not that it wasn’t charming, interesting and well-written. It just didn’t make the sort of impact we would have liked.

She wasn’t upset. At least, if she was, it didn’t show in the reply she sent. In my letter I had concluded: If it’s any consolation, my own story was rejected too. She answered that she hoped that the rejection I sent myself was as nice as the one I sent her.

That my story was rejected will come as a surprise to my fellow editors, who never knew (until reading this) that I submitted one, as I remove all author names before forwarding the stories to them. But once I’d smashed all the crockery, I wasn’t upset either. And now I’ve taken up the suggestion to write myself a rejection letter.

 

Dear Mr. Bausse,

Thank you for your submission to The Rabbit Hole Volume 2. We read your story with interest; however we feel unable to include it because frankly, the ending sucks.

Now admit it, Bausse, you knew that, didn’t you? So why didn’t you do something about it? Thought you could get away with it, eh? Well, The Rabbit Hole is not that sort of publication – shoddiness just won’t do.

We wish you the best of luck in placing your piece elsewhere.

Yours etc.

 

It’s quite true. I did know the ending was feeble. I’d tinkered with it a bit, made it longer, then longer still, then cut it down to a single sentence. But thanks to my co-editors, I now know that it doesn’t matter how long or short it is, it’s not the right ending. The thing is, though, I can’t think of another one. I regularly make suggestions for other people’s endings, but my own? Zilch.

So here it is. Because there’s one good thing about being an editor here – it may have been rejected but I get to foist it upon you anyway, in the hope that you’ll be able to give me a better ending. Any ideas? (Note the sly presupposition, by the way – that the ending may be crap but the rest of it isn’t. But if you think the beginning and middle are crap too, don’t hesitate to say so. I’ve got a new pile of crockery, dirt cheap.)

 

 

You’re Not Late

 

“Take this day, wear it well, enjoy it, darling, you deserve it.”

Abel’s wife stirred just enough to brush her lips against his cheeks and murmur, “You too, darling, I love you.”

He tiptoed out of the room. It was five o’ clock in the morning.

Once in the car he updated the Carmate Companion, which now came in three different voices: Cindy, Lisa and Cliff. He selected Lisa and told her to find the quickest route to his destination. She asked if he wanted music or news. He chose Mozart.

The streets were empty at that time but he drove with care because every so often a squall of rain would whip the windscreen and wash the town away. Once he almost hit a dustbin that was rolling drunkenly at a crossroads. On the outskirts of town bits of garden had broken out to foray into the unknown. “Be careful,” said Lisa over the music. “Conditions are hazardous due to gale force winds.”

“Oh, yeah?” said Abel sarcastically. He’d have to talk to Giles Roffe about that. No one wants to be told what they know already.

He joined the motorway, heading north. He hadn’t slept well, and the road being straight and smooth, he felt his concentration slipping. “Got something livelier? I need to stay awake. Springsteen?”

“I’ll put you through to Cindy. That’s more her department.” Lisa sounded hurt – You don’t like Mozart? Fuck you! – which Abel thought was something else he’d have to bring up with Roffe. Warmth, solicitude, empathy – fine, bring ’em on! But who wants a Carmate getting uppity?

Not that it surprised him. Roffe had a serious attitude problem. Something to do with his childhood, no doubt – Abel wasn’t about to analyse it – but the man just couldn’t hack authority. A loner, too, which was a shame. With a little more effort, a touch of good grace, he could have been up there with the big boys, working on Carmate Complete. He certainly had the talent – all he lacked was the commitment, the motivation.

“You remember the faces, the places, the names” – thumping the wheel now, belting it out with Bruce – “You know it’s da da da da da the rain, Adam raised a –”

“Accident ahead!” Cindy was under orders to interrupt. “Caution!”

He stopped singing. The sound of the wipers took over. “Serious?” But Cindy didn’t answer.

Whatever causes them – human error, mechanical flaw or something wrong with your luck that day – accident scenes have a logic of their own, and by the time he got to it, the compulsory components of this one were already there: flashing lights, yellow jackets and the dumb, useless tailback in which he was duly trapped.

After some minutes of drumming his fingers on the wheel he got out to assess the damage – not to the vehicles involved, but to his chances of making the appointment on time. He got as close as he could but didn’t linger: a lorry on its side, contents vomited over the tarmac, and half a dozen crumpled cars in the fast lane told him the chances weren’t good.

“Why,” he asked, “didn’t you tell me to get off at the last exit?”

“Why,” said Cindy coolly, “didn’t the police tell you to get off at the last exit?”

“What do you mean?”

“They didn’t have time, Mr. Abbott.”

The answer wasn’t just wrong, it was insolent. The whole point about Carmate was that it reacted quicker than the police. “No one’s asking you to close down a motorway. Just to get me to my destination on time.”

Cindy left a slight pause. “You’d already passed the exit when the accident occurred.”

Abel didn’t answer. He wondered when the Companions had acquired a capacity to lie.

“Have no fear, Mr. Abbott. You can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel jabbed a finger at the screen and switched back to Lisa and Mozart.

 

The thing you have to remember is that every new day is yours – take it for the gift that it is, cherish it, use it well. Every morning, that was the message Abel greeted his staff with, and now he summoned its power to use on himself. Even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, worried you might not reach your appointment, never forget that every day is a gift. When at last, over an hour later, he was able to squeeze through a gap in the debris on the hard shoulder, he reckoned he should still get there with a good half hour to spare. “I feel great,” he shouted, “you feel great, we all feel great – Carmate!” Then he kept the music low and concentrated on driving as fast as conditions would allow.

“Take the next exit off the motorway… Right at the roundabout, third exit… Straight on at the roundabout, second exit…” Lisa was reassuringly calm, informing him every so often of his expected time of arrival: 8:21, 8:18, 8:14. Once he’d built up a cushion of fifty minutes, he eased off the pace and relaxed.

“Right at the traffic lights four hundred yards ahead.”

“What?”

“Flooding is expected further on. Turn right here to avoid it.”

He slowed to a crawl, deliberately waiting for the lights to turn red. “What do you mean ‘expected’? Is there or isn’t there?”

“The river is rising rapidly, Mr. Abbott.”

What river? This was a major trunk road, for God’s sake. It couldn’t get flooded!

“The lights are green,” said Lisa at the same time as the car behind him sounded its horn.

Abel swore as he furiously swung to the right. “You’d better know what you’re doing, Goddamit! My promotion hangs on this appointment. If I’m late…”

“You can never be late with Carmate,” Lisa informed him, before adding coldly, “If you’d rather be with Cindy…”

“No!” He sat up straight, gripping the wheel tighter. “Just get it right, that’s all.”

“The detour will add another eighteen minutes. Turn left at the next junction, three hundred yards ahead. I advise you to slow down.”

He obeyed. No point risking an accident, after all. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if he got there a little late. He’d say there’d been a problem at home, a burst pipe, a burglary, whatever. He couldn’t say a Carmate Companion had kept him stuck on the motorway for an hour.

Out in the country, the absence of illumination was unnerving: suddenly there’s nothing but the beam from the car, gulping up the dotted white lines, a vague awareness of hedges on either side, trees gyrating wildly, and lashes of rain more vicious now, more determined. Then Lisa made him take a left and it wasn’t a road but a lane, and instead of white lines there were puddles and potholes and branches.

He stopped. “You’ve made a mistake.”

“In two and a half miles, turn right. Estimated time of arrival, 8:42.”

Grudgingly, warily, he put the car in gear. “Eight-forty, my arse,” he muttered. “Be bloody midday at this rate.”

“You don’t believe me.” Lisa’s voice was sad. “I’ve done all I can, Mr. Abbott. I’ll put you through to Cliff.”

“Wait!”

“Goodbye, Mr. Abbott.”

“Hello, Mr. Abbott.”

“What the…? Giles?”

“My name’s Cliff, Mr. Abbott. Please keep driving. You don’t want to be late.”

“What are you playing at, Roffe? Get me back on the road right now!”

“How are you feeling, Mr. Abbott?”

Abel poked his thumb at the screen, trying to switch it off, but Giles Roffe’s voice kept coming. “Don’t get in a state, you feel great, you can never be late with Carmate.”

Abel brought the car to a halt and slammed his fist at the screen. “I’ll get you for this, Roffe! I swear you’re gonna pay for this, you hear?”

The face on the screen smiled. “Don’t get in a state. You’re not late. The minute, the hour, the date. Right on time, Mr. Abbott. Your appointment.”

Abel managed to open the door but not to get out. The oak tree smashed into the car.

 

 

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book reviews, book sales, editing, Flash Fiction, Google Ads, humor, inspiration, Legal, Literary Agents, Literary critique, Magic and Science, mythology, publishing, reading, Research, Satire, scams, self-publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Welcome, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

An Invitation to Blog

The Writers Co-op is looking for a few good bloggers. Anyone in the writing life is welcome to submit a blog. If you have something to say about writing, editing, publishing, marketing or just want to share news of your latest effort, we’re interested. Submit a new blog, or, a link to your current blog page.

Members should post their blog in the draft section. Others should submit their their blog or link to GD <at> Deckard <dot> com. Blogs are posted every Monday or Thursday morning on a first-come basis.

Remember that readers are likely to be people in the writing life interested in learning from one another. Sharing our successes, failures, insights, knowledge and humor is a big part of the life we lead.

I look forward to hearing from you.

– GD Deckard, Founding Member

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blogging, editing, Literary critique, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

An Interesting Thing about Writing

Show, Don’t Tell?
Show, is writing that allows the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings. This is generally more interesting than telling a story through exposition, summarization, and description. The best explanation I know is from Anton Chekhov who wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

Obviously, we must consider Chekhov’s advice. There is a crater on the planet Mercury named after him. But, what does it mean? To me, it means the end of lazy writing. The writer should take that extra step into the story. Don’t just say, Auggie Anderson is blind. Step into Auggie’s world and see him feeling for a bench with a white cane.

That said, I’m currently reading through 71 short stories that have been submitted for the Writer’s Co-op 2019 Anthology, The Rabbit Hole, Vol. 2. And, the best story so far is tell! Not show. Yup. The author is telling a story. But so well written, that the action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings are all there! It held my interest all the way through because the story is interesting.

So, what’s a writer to do? When I think of the stories I really like, they stand out because they are interesting. I may or may not remember that the story is original or well written. But I know a story that is memorable to me and to many others is always an interesting one.

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editing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Hunting Down the Pleonasm

By Allan Guthrie

I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them.

1: Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase that can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant.

2: Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

4: Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

5: Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

7: If you find you’ve said the same thing more than once, choose the best and cut the rest. Frequently, I see the same idea presented several ways. It’s as if the writer is saying, “The first couple of images might not work, but the third one should do it. If not, maybe all three together will swing it.” The writer is repeating himself. Like this. This is a subtle form of pleonasm.

8: Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded.  An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

9: Describe the environment in ways that are pertinent to the story. And try to make such descriptions active. Instead of describing a book lying on a table, have your psycho-killer protagonist pick it up, glance at it and move it to the arm of the sofa. He needs something to do to break up those long speeches, right?

10: Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.

11: Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

12: Fix your Point Of View (POV). Make it clear whose head you’re in as early as possible. And stay there for the duration of the scene. Unless you’re already a highly successful published novelist, in which case you can do what you like. The reality is that although most readers aren’t necessarily clued up on the finer points of POV, they know what’s confusing and what isn’t.

13: Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.

14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.” That’s not quite true (anyone who doubts this should track down a copy of Fletcher Flora’s Most Likely To Love), but it’s close enough. And don’t use adverbs as modifiers. Adverbs used in this way are ‘telling’ words (I told you rule 8 was rarely heeded!).

15: While it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

16: Start scenes late and leave them early.

 17: When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

18: Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

19: Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed. Unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

20: Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

21: Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

22: Vary your sentence lengths. I tend to write short, and it’s amazing what a difference combing a couple of sentences can make.

23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

24: Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

25: Avoid unnecessary repetition of tense. For example: I’d gone to the hospital. They’d kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I’d seen a doctor. Usually, the first sentence is sufficient to establish tense. I’d gone to the hospital. They kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I saw a doctor.

26: When you finish your book, pinpoint the weakest scene. Cut it. If necessary, replace it with a sentence or paragraph.

27: Don’t plant information. How is Donald, your son? I’m quite sure Donald’s father doesn’t need reminding who Donald is. Their relationship is mentioned purely to provide the reader with information.

28: If an opinion expressed through dialogue makes your POV character look like a jerk, allow him to think it rather than say it.  He’ll express the same opinion, but seem like a lot less of a jerk.

29: Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence.

30: Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

31: Spot the moment of maximum tension and hold it for as long as possible. Or as John D. MacDonald put it: “Freeze the action and shoot him later.”

32: If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.

Source: Adventure Books of Seattle https://www.adventurebooksofseattle.com/Hunting%20Down%20the%20Pleonasm2.pdf

Allan Guthrie is a Scottish literary agent, author and editor of crime fiction. He was born in Orkney, but has lived in Edinburgh for most of his adult life. His first novel, Two-Way Split, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award, and it won the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2007. Wikipedia

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editing, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Paws Here

This ia a comma.       This is Oscar Wilde

Hello all.

As many of you have no doubt noticed, the first Writer’s Co-op anthology, Down the Rabbit Hole, is finally complete and ready for release in a few short weeks. Ably midwifed by our own Curtis Bausse, it is a fascinating and engaging collection.  I think you’ll like it. As one of the editors, I was impressed with the quality of writing throughout and the diversity of voices.

Editing is fun. It really is. It’s also a tough job. It’s challenging enough when it’s your own manuscript. No matter how many times you go over it, there’s always another question, another uncertainty. Is that the best word? Is my dialogue believable? Can I get rid of that phrase? (Or paragraph? Or chapter?) Am I using that semicolon correctly?

When you’re editing someone else’s work, the responsibilities multiply. Not only are you trying to polish the writing to a high gloss, you have to do so without wrecking the original. You have to respect the author’s own voice, her own style. It can be a tricky balancing act. There are rules for good writing, of course, but much of it is still subjective. (I confess to having a heavy hand. My first impulse is to rewrite, and I apologize if anyone found my suggestions, eh, overbearing.)

On the subject of rules, I want to take a minute to discuss that smallest bit of stigmeological property: the comma. I know, I know – the comma is not the smallest punctuation mark in terms of ink. That honor would go to the period, natch. But the period is a weightier mark in terms of purpose and effect. It denotes, as writers of Commonwealth English know all too well, a full stop. End of the line. No more sentence beyond this point.

The comma is a more subtle and ambiguous creature. Sure, there are some hard and fast rules, but there are times when its use – or lack of same  – can be somewhat discretionary, a style choice. Hence the potential confusion.

The word comma comes from the Greek, komma, meaning “a bit that is cut off.” Originally, Aristophanes of Byzantium (no, not the bawdy Athenian comic playwright, the other Aristophanes) invented a system of dots that could be included in a written text to signify the amount of breath that a reader should take between phrases when reading aloud. This is, more or less, the original concept of the modern comma. (Which gives some idea how ephemeral the comma can be. It was originally nothing but a mouthful of air.) The modern comma derived directly from a little diagonal slash printers used to indicate a pause – the virgula suspensiva. I don’t know why you need to know that, but now you do.

In these oh-so-sophisticated times, the comma isn’t really used to indicate breaths (but then, we don’t do a whole lot of reading out loud anymore either) but it is still used to separate clauses – those “cut off” bits I spoke of.

First: A comma is used to separate dependent clauses from independent clauses when the dependent clause comes first, such as: “After cutting down all the the turpentine trees, I threw myself into a butt of malmsey wine.”  Turn it around (“I threw myself into etc after cutting down all the whatsis”) and you no longer need a comma. Also, use a comma when two independent clauses are stitched together with one of the seven coordinating conjunctions – so, and, yet, but, or, nor, for.  Consider the difference:  “I couldn’t get out of bed if I wanted to, and the phone was ringing off the hook”  as opposed to “I slaughtered all the innocents because they were getting on my nerves.”  Because is a subordinating conjunction here, so it doesn’t need a comma. There are many others – since, unless, although, after, whereas, whether, while, just to name a few. They don’t need a comma unless the clause they introduce comes before the subject clause of the sentence: “Although they continue to get on my nerves, I will not slaughter all the innocents.”

Okay? Okay.

Now we turn to relative clauses, which can be restrictive or nonrestrictive. Non-restrictive clauses take commas, restrictive clauses do not. Did you see what I did in the first sentence of this paragraph? The clause “which can be restrictive or nonrestrictive” is a nonrestrictive clause, so it needs a comma. If I had said:  “Now we turn to relative clauses which can be restrictive or nonrestrictive,” I would be restricting myself ONLY to relative clauses that can be either. Clear?

No, of course not. That’s a dumb example because the restriction is meaningless. Here’s a better one. “The king mandated the slaying of innocents who were mewling tediously.” This means the king ordered all the mewling innocents – and only the mewling innocents – be dispatched. The meaning is restricted. Presumably, placid innocents were allowed to live, this time anyway. If I’d said, “The king mandated the slaying of innocents, who were mewling tediously,” that suggests that all the little tykes are making an annoying noise and all needed dispatching. No restriction. Any peaceable tykes who were caught up in the fray were just out of luck. 

Plain as rain, no?

On to adverbs. Certain adverbs get commas every time, such as: therefore, however, nevertheless, moreover, furthermore.  Put a comma after it if it begins a sentence: “Nevertheless, it moves.”  If it occurs mid-sentence: “In this competition, however, the loser takes it all,” put commas on both sides.

(Note: I tend to put my commas inside my quotes, an Americanism. The British English practice of putting the comma outside the quotes  – or, if you prefer, the “inverted commas” – is perfectly fine. Even if it’s weird.)

Some adverbs aren’t so fussy, and context and mood can determine usage. “Tonight we dance” has a different feel from “Tonight, we dance.”  Just a bit of dramatic pause. But if that’s really what you’re going for, you might want to sell it a little harder, “Tonight – we dance”  or “But tonight, Esmeralda, we dance!”  It all depends on whether you’re writing a bleak nihilistic novel in a minimalist style, or a florid romance novel  about tango dancers and gypsies. 

But back to commas.

A common comma elision occurs with “too” when it is the ultimate word in a sentence. It’s perfectly valid to use a comma, but it isn’t really needed and looks a little fussy, and – here’s the key point – no one is going to be confused. On the other hand, if you say, “The tubas came in late after the alla breve section too” there is some ambiguity. Do you mean those damned tubas are always missing their cues? Or are you piling on because the pesky piccolos were tardy as well? Fortunately, context will usually make the distinction clear. If not, a comma before the “too” might be enough to suggest the former.

Or consider the following example: “Clang realized too late his airlock was open.” You could enclose “too late” in commas, but you don’t need to. However, if you want to add emphasis for ironic or dramatic or humorous purposes, commas might be the way to go: “Clang realized, too late, his airlock was open.” You could also use em dashes in the same manner: “Clang realized – too late – his airlock was open” emphasizing even more the irony or drama or humor of poor Clang’s plight. Increasing the distance between Clang’s moment of realization and what he actually realizes heightens the tension of the construction: “Clang realized – too late, as it turned out, because his dials were all in the red zone, and the canary alarm was chirping in a manner that, at long last, explained its nomenclature – his airlock was open.”  Here, of course, em dashes are needed to organize this absurd parade of clauses into some semblance of sense.

There are plenty of other uses for commas, like after introductory phrases and around appositives and to separate items on a list and between parts of place names. But when you really get down to the nitty gritty, commas have the same purpose as all punctuation: they make meaning clearer. When it comes to clarifying syntax, the humble comma does a lot of the heavy lifting. But unless the sentence is particularly long or highly complex or especially convoluted, you might be just fine omitting our little friend.  

Consider this nearly random sentence from The Great Gatsby:  

“In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.”

First off, the barb about the age of his female guests is nicely delivered. But if we wanted to call foul on the comma usage, we could. Technically, a comma should be used after “In the main hall.” It is an introductory phrase, after all. Does he need it? Not really. The meaning is clear. There’s no confusion. So no problem. But let’s look at where he does use a comma: “a brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins…” No comma is wanted here. The “and” might appear to call for it, but both clauses have the same subject: the bar – the bar was set up; the bar was stocked. What follows is not an independent clause. If the sentence had ended with the word gins, the comma would be glaringly wrong (and I’m sure Fitzgerald would’ve omitted it). BUT the clause that follows is long and complicated. This comma is more for pacing, I think. Fitz’s comma gives us a little breath before tackling the rest of the sentence. It is also an organizational tool. We know, without even having to think about it, that everything that follows is one long, breathless phrase. Could he have placed a comma after liquors?  Maybe. Again, there’s no technical need. The rest of the sentence is not an independent clause. The choice would be one of pacing and grouping, and clearly ol’ Scott wanted us to read it all in one gush. Possibly, he wanted us to assume that it was not only the cordials which were were forgotten but also the gins and liquors. And, possibly, I have gone way too deep into the weeds over this. At any rate, I’ll stop now.

Gertrude Stein said, A comma by helping you along and holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it”  – which is so smart-aleckishly convoluted, it’s hard to say for sure whether she was for them or against them (she was against them). But the point is made. If you can get away without it, and you really don’t want it cluttering up or slowing down your sentence, hey, try leaving that comma out. You have my permission, which is worth almost nothing. But make conscious choices. Every sentence is different. (Note: It’s easy to find humorous examples of how misused punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence, like: “Let’s go home and eat kids!” – but that kind of thing doesn’t really happen all that often.)

I’m going to leave it there. I certainly haven’t covered everything, and there are some briar patches out there (serial adjectives? Don’t get me started), so maybe next time.

Or maybe I’ll tackle hyphens.

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