A Teaching Moment

I cut this from the comments trail and posted it here because it’s the perfect set-up for a teaching moment. This is a great example of why good writing sometimes gets rejected.

The poetry in this paragraph is excellent, however it lessens the effect the story could have. And keeping the identity of “the man” from the reader until the end of the paragraph has the effect of annoying the reader rather than drawing the reader into intrigue and mystery of the scene. …

The poetry in this paragraph …are all very fine descriptive details, but they have the effect of notifying the reader that the author is hard at work selecting poetic verse to add emotion to the scene. However, Eli Slater would never select those words if he were telling this story…we never get to see this scene through Eli’s eyes.

…in addition to the poetic verse removing the character from the scene and repalcing him with the author, it also has the effect of weakening the impact of the scene through repeition. A single
metaphor or a poetic word choice discretely placed among the forward thrust of the story may not weaken the lines too much, but more than once and the author becomes the viewpoint character….

…Edit out all of the poetry and replace it with thoughts and descriptions that Eli would see and feel. Then Eli gets to tell us the story from his point of view without so much author instrusion. Something like:

Eli Slater clung to the top of a telegraph pole with one hand and held the pocket key with the other. The icy wind cut through his officer’s coach like a dagger between his shoulder blades, but there was no one to stop him from sending the message. None of the other officers dared venture out into cold night. He tapped out LINCOLN IN ROUTE and it was done. The eight assassins were on their way and there was no one to warn the president. He reached for the wire cutters in his pocket. At least no one from this part of the growing confederacy. Eli cut the wire.

Here we have two different treatments (blue above and original) of the same story. Neither is “wrong.” Which has a better chance of being accepted for publication? It depends on which editor/publisher is reading it.

Personally, I like the original better. It has a depth and richness that I love to read. I wasn’t distracted by the language, or by not knowin the characters identity. For me, it added suspense and an intense desire to read more. When I get a submission with writing like this, it gets read all the way through–regardless of whether I’m looking for that genre or not.

If I got the blue paragraph, I would read until I determined if it was something that would fit with my product line. I might read it all the way through, or I might not, depending on the rest of the story.

But here’s the teaching moment: My colleague over at XYZ Publishing hates flowery exposition. They want fast and to the point. At their house, the blue paragraph would have the advantage.

The trick is matching your writing style with a publishing house that will appreciate it.

How do you know what style an editor/publisher prefers? Look at what they’ve published in the past. Read the acknowledgments in a book that is similar in writing style to yours. If they list an editor by name, that’s who you want to address your manuscript to.

Author: LDS Publisher

I am an anonymous blogger who works in the LDS publishing industry. I blog about topics that help authors seeking publication and about published fiction by LDS authors.