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Saturday, January 03, 2015

LETTERS to the SLUSH PILE #21:

Dear -----, ------, and -------,

I wanted to write you as a group. Your stories are quite good, but there are a few niggling things you all do that I wanted to point out. These are small technical mistakes I also used to commit years ago before they were shown to me, so naturally, I'm very aware of them. In the examples that follow, the writing isn't as tightly written as it could be. Which begs the question - why are editors always harping on writing 'tight'? There are two basic reasons for this: one - space in a printed book or magazine is limited. This doesn't apply so much to digital work, but the rule still stands. Two: tight writing is work that has been distilled. It's stronger, more potent. It moves along faster, because there is nothing to block its flow.

I've taken the following examples from your work and have modified them slightly for anonymity's sake. You might think about rewriting these:
1). With his eyes, he made out the tiny figure climbing the hill. (Why point out 'with his eyes'? Isn't that obvious?)
2). Jack felt warmth spread throughout him. (This one isn't as bad as #1 above, but usually, there isn't any need to indicate someone feeling something. You could as well say, 'Warmth spread throughout him.'
3). There was a fireplace, for wood only. (What else would the fireplace be for? Spaghetti? If it isn't important, don't mention it.)
The next examples are about body language. Be careful with the images you present, especially if they can be taken literally.
1). She threw up her hands in frustration. (The visual here is throwing up or vomiting. I know what you mean, but the mind sometimes interprets such phrases before the logic sets in. Which means a snag in reading flow.)
2). John gave his head a shake. (By the same reasoning above, I imagined John removing his head and rattling it like a maraca. This tendency to visualize might come from reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but what can I say? The point is, you do not want me to break the reading flow with a ridiculous image. It would be better to say, 'John shook his head.')
3). Her presence challenged his man-pride. (Say whaaat? You absolutely do not want my mind to go there. Find a better way to describe his feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or whatever.)
And finally, think about how you position dialogue. Sometimes, it's better to have one line of dialogue immediately followed by another, rather than to split the two lines with a short bit of internal reaction. Why? Because the prose moves faster. Here are two examples, almost identical in rendering. In my opinion, the second one works better:
"Don't deny it! I know you're behind Frederick's death. We found your dirk beside his closet!"

He had lost the knife, that much was true. But anyone could have set it in Frederick's chamber in order to accuse him. Most likely, it was Barnaby, who stood challenging him now, before all the court. He had drunk too much the night before and Madelaine had waylaid him. Had she taken it? With sick insight, he knew it was so.
"That proves nothing! Only that someone put it there!"
Or:
"Don't deny it! I know you're behind Frederick's death. We found your dirk beside his closet."

"That proves nothing! Only that someone put it there!"
 He had lost the knife, that much was true. But anyone could have set it in Frederick's chamber in order to accuse him. Most likely, it was Barnaby, who stood challenging him now, before all the court. He had drunk too much the night before, and Madelaine had waylaid him. Had she taken it? With sick insight, he knew it was so. 
 To wrap up, think about what can be taken literally in your prose, what is redundant, and how you might better position dialogue.Think about creating an ease of reading and smooth flow.

- Susan.

1 comment:

  1. For those of you who are interested, additional comments about this post (and others) appear on the I Read On Spec Facebook page. Anyone can join. The link is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2395098260/

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