Thursday, August 28, 2014

1001 Ways to Wreck a Story - Part One

In the course of our editorial adventures, we at Third Person Press have often discussed the mind-bogglingly numerous ways in which a story can, well, go off the rails. It's something we had never really thought about in our pre-editorial days, but we are constantly amazed by it.

So, while these posts are not actually going to enumerate all 1001 potential pitfalls, we thought we might cover a few, so that you can be on the lookout for them in your own work. Sherry provides the first one.

The "Didn't-Even-Make-It-Out-Of-The-Gate" Story

The Problem
I'm happy to say we don't see a lot of these at Third Person Press. This story is so crippled from the outset that it doesn't have a chance. Spelling and grammar mistakes are rife, sentences are poorly constructed or just plain wrong, tense and viewpoint are not consistent…you get the idea. No-one but the author has ever read this story. And it's likely no-one will.

The Fix
There's a two-part fix for this story problem. One, writing is a craft which can be learned. The author needs to spend time learning the basic techniques of spelling, grammar, and good, competent writing. You may have the greatest plot ever conceived, the most compelling characters to ever grace a page, but if the writing is poor, the reader can't discover all those wonderful things. It's like erecting a beautiful house and then surrounding it with a ten-foot-high hedge of thorns. Poor writing will keep readers out.

Two, editors and beta readers are your helpers. Get eyes on your story to help you find the problems and fix them before you show the story to someone you hope might buy it. Pay, barter, or beg for help with the writing even while you work to improve on your own—and accept the fact that you need it. The need for editing will never go away, even for the most skilled writer, but the work you set your editor will lessen over time as you become more competent.

Eventually, you'll have stories that make it out of the gate every time. Then you can worry about the other 1000 pitfalls lying in wait. We'll have another one next time!

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