In the comments section of my post yesterday, I was asked to refrain from steaming ahead until I took a step backwards and gave more info on what turns an editor on, and what turns them off.
This is a tougher subject than one might think. It is such a personal thing once you get beyond the mere mechanics of writing.
So lets start with that. The mechanics.
I seriously doubt any editor, or agent would argue the point that severe mishandling of the basic principles and rules regarding good fiction are a turn off. These are such basic things that they really shouldn’t need to be listed, and yet, they are the exact things that pop up on a frighteningly consistent basis.
The ‘piratesque’ idea of the rules are really more like guidelines, while cute, is only partly accurate. Rules such as don’t head hop, don’t flip story POV ie: first person, third person, omniscient, at any time during the story, avoid passive writing, show don’t tell etc, are rules for a very good reason. If the rules aren’t adhered to it, at the least, weakens the story, at the worst trashes it completely.
Now it’s true that some of these rules can be bent, if done well. Things such as head hopping, and an occasional tell where it fits, and even keeps a certain rhythm won’t kill the story, or even weaken it much if it is done for an actual reason, and done well. Those two caveats, however, make for a real dilemma. First of all, it appears that many beginning writers (and many not beginners) do not even realize what they are doing when they do it, so they can’t know if it’s for a reason, or if they’re doing it well. Secondly, if they do realize it, they rarely sit back and ask themselves if it really is necessary, or adds to the story at all. And last, but by no means least, they rarely do it well. So one good reason for sticking hard to the rules when you’re starting out is that you haven’t had time to develop your craft enough to bend the rules where they can be.
Some rules simply should not be broken, or even bent. Story POV should remain consistent. I have yet to see a good story that bends that rule in any form, big publisher release, small pub release, or submission.
It doesn’t make too much sense to sit here and attempt to list all the basic rules, although the above appear to me to be the most offensive, and commonly damaged ones. These rules are easy to find if a writer is at all serious about finding them, and miles of paper and gallons of ink, not to mention tons of bandwidth on line are dedicated to the detailed accounting of the hows, and how not tos of the basic rules.
Things like spelling, punctuation, etc. are so very basic that if I even have to mention them is an affront to myself as a writer, and an editor. I WILL give some slack to a writer whose native tongue is not English. It really amazes me how well some of these writers accomplish their task. I have one such man that I’m working with at the moment and he’s wonderful. Yes there are some grammar issues, but considering the difficulty of working in a foreign language, he’s fantastic.
Now, where argument can come into play is what comes after the mechanics. Here is where the personal taste enters in. Some writers may feel it’s unfair, but it’s a fact of life. Editors are people too. We can’t help personal bias. That and the fact that we also try to make judgment on what the general public will like, and that is a catch as catch can thing as well.
Also, every house works just a little differently. Where I am at, the submissions have already gone through the ‘first round’, which means someone read the query letter and considered it interesting. From there the submissions go into a slush pile where, since we are electronic, it’s easy to open each one and read the synopsis and decide which ones we want to tackle and which we don’t, unlike some where the editor gets a pile of envelopes and must slog through each one at a time.
Here again is a matter of personal attitude. What I look for in a synopsis may be much more lenient than what another editor does. So there could be much room for argument. As a writer I feel synopses are evil, and should be quickly sent to where all evil things go. As an editor I understand the value of a synopsis. In my case, however, I will not penalize an author for a boring synopsis. What I must see is a plot line. (Certain rules do apply, please spell correctly, etc…) I must see a plot line that is reasonable within the parameters of the story’s genre. I want to be sure, as Miss Snark once said, that aliens don’t land in chapter 12, unless it’s a story that actually involves aliens. I know for a fact, however, that many editors are much more stringent in their appraisal of a synopsis.
Okay, now, one might ask, how do I know if what I’m writing works? Especially since I’ve already said most of these writers do not recognize the errors they are making. Critique groups can be good. However, they can be a trap as well. Many times they are a case of the blind leading the blind, and in some cases they can even be vindictive. If you can find a truly great critique partner, or group, where you respect the writers in it, and value their opinions, they are worth their weight in gold. Some really good ones do exist.
Pay attention to what you write. You’d think this would be a no-brainer. I have to say that I’m not sure it is. I have to wonder, and having had the pleasure, or lack thereof, of meeting up with some of the newbie Prima Donnas, actually know, that many of these writers simply think they have no need to learn the rules, or check to see if they meet the basic requirements. They don’t WANT to learn. They demand that they are artists, and how dare anyone impede the process of creation with ugly things like rules. The only thing to be said there is--good luck with that.