This is an excerpt from ‘The Shape-Shifters,’ a paranormal fantasy. Never say ‘abnormal’ fantasy. The book is available in a number of fine bookstores, and has a couple of very nice reviews.
Editing an excerpt in a new style.
Janet managed to get her dad and the kids in the truck, all properly bundled up against the cold, with the kids clutching a few small presents for Grandma and Grandpa Herbert.
She eased down the snow-covered street, greasy from being churned up and half-melted by traffic. There were literally dozens of cars parked along the curb as everyone was attending to the roles of guest and visitors, hosts and hostesses. Many of the neighbouring homes were lit up, and people could be seen coming and going in a self-conscious manner, mostly strangers but for this once-yearly ritual.
“How’s the truck running?” asked her dad, predictably enough.
You could almost set your watch by it.
“Um, it’s hard to start sometimes,” she said. “I think it needs a new battery.”
“Why don’t you get it fixed, and I’ll pay for it,” suggested her father.
Janet gulped in thanks and said she’d try to get it done after Christmas, but before New Year’s.
Experimenting with style.
A rational goal for 2012 is to bring up our game a notch and elevate the prose style to international, professional standards. This is the sort of level where acquisitions editors don’t just chuck the manuscript after three lines without actually reading the story. Readers browsing the online bookstore don't click 'close' and move on. The best place to experiment with style is in the short story market, because we can re-write old stories that were rejected and try them somewhere else.
This is a valid test, because over the last six months, I’ve had a uniform 100 % rejection rate, and that can’t be entirely blamed on the economy and increased competition, or an influx of submissions from people who wouldn’t normally submit, but are presently unemployed. Also, some of them stories have been rejected multiple times. We have some data, in other worsd. If I don't experiment and change the style, the only real difference is that I have been submitting entirely to professional markets, which are a hard sell at the best of times. The idea is, if I start to place stories again, stories for money, then maybe it was the style they were written in that stopped them from being picked up before.
So let’s edit the piece above in the light of new knowledge, and some soul-searching, which I would prefer not to do. It goes with the territory, though.
Janet managed to get her dad and the kids in the truck, all properly bundled up against the cold. The kids clutched a few small presents for Grandma and Grandpa Herbert.
She eased down the snow-covered street, greasy from being churned up and half-melted by traffic. There were dozens of cars parked along the curb as everyone was attending to the roles of guest and visitors, hosts and hostesses. The neighbouring homes were all lit up, and people were coming and going in a self-conscious manner, mostly strangers but for this once-yearly ritual.
“How’s the truck running?”
Her dad’s question was predictable enough. You could almost set your watch by it.
“Um, it’s hard to start sometimes. I think it needs a new battery.”
“Why don’t you get it fixed, and I’ll pay for it?”
Janet gulped in thanks. “I’ll try to get it done after Christmas, but before New Year’s.”
Notes: we’ve removed the word ‘literally,’ which some editors hate, and done a few things with the dialogue. We’ve changed a few words and taken some out. In this piece we’ve gone for the ruthless suppression of dialogue tags and adverbs, which is arguably the most prevalent modern style among professional writers and editors. Nothing has been added to the piece, only rearranged or taken away.
Study the competition in your market.
The nice thing about having an Amazon account is that you can download all sorts of free e-books and see where other people are at in their writing. Some of them will impress as very competent. Those are the ones to compete with. If we work hard, learn the craft, and set out to compete with the best, instead of just being content to be ‘better than some other guy,’ we will make out just fine.
The trouble with Facebook is that while you can develop a stream of sources and information, by looking for and clicking on all writers or all editors and publishers, you indicate a ‘preference’ for certain types of people. Facebook’s algorithms will then present you with an ever-increasing ratio of the exact same kind of person. Somehow the readers get lost in all of this.
Reading is a relationship.
Reading is an intimate form of relationship. Relationships require honest effort. It is by establishing a relationship with readers that a writer can be more successful in expanding the circle of people who read their books. When I read posts by people who are also interested in writing, it makes me ask questions about my own work. It has definitely been a phase in my own development.
Who is the reader? The reader is a person who really doesn’t know a darned thing about writing, who doesn’t much care if the story follows some arbitrary or academic rules of composition. They may never try to write a story, or a book. They don’t care. They are looking for a good read, not a blog post on grammar and punctuation. We’re not out to impress the reader with our knowledge or our ability to study and improve. All we want to do is to improve our skills, and tell a better story. We must tell it as well as we can. The more we understand our tools, the better will be our story-construction. Ultimately, the writer and all their tools should just evaporate and disappear from the page. This leaves only the characters and their challenges, surrounded by their environment, speaking their minds clearly and engaging in actions that are easily followed by the average reader.
Listening to other writers all the time will drive you crazy. Listening to the readers, figuring out exactly what they need, is far more important.
As for adverbs, dialogue tags, statement attributions, there are schools of thought and each has its advantages and limitations. They must, because they are tools.
Everything else is just style. To arrive at a style is the result of accident or choice. As for getting more readers, it just takes time, and some well-written books and stories. Going for the most modern, up-to-date literary style for the magazine market, where space is at a premium and where they are perhaps more avant-garde stylistically, is an experiment that is certainly worth trying. I always check and sometimes re-write short stories before submitting them anyways, so this is just one more little thing to look out for. And now it's in the tool-box.