I have recently been reviewing works by self-published authors. I really enjoy doing this, because I am asking people to do it for me. It’s the whole “pay it forward” thing. We need reviews, we brave pioneers of the indie publishing world. The magical algorithm that is amazon requires that people read our shit, like our shit, and explain what it is about our shit that they like. With stars.
Five stars please. Or…ok… four. Three? Anything bigger than two. Seriously, who has ever accomplished anything with a two?
But, here’s what I’m noticing as I delve deep into Reviewer Brain (which is oddly similar to the high school English teacher brain I was born with); I am reading great stories, wonderful plot, and intriguing characters… but with poor grammar, or fucked up tenses, or weak word choice!
Where is my red pen?
Don’t get me wrong… I don’t pretend to be the Voice of Authority on how to write. Sweet Jesus, just read my own novel and you’ll say “WTF?” My first editor fired ME, for goodness sake!
“Get rid of everything funny,” she said.
“Yes,” she insisted. “This is not a funny novel. I can’t work with you if you think this is funny.”
“But… if I get rid of the funny bits… there’s nothing left. Just a dead chick in the woods. Who wants to read about that?”
“You’re fired,” she said.
And that was the end of beautiful… strange… relationship. I ignored her, I forged ahead. In my novel, there’s a dead chick in the woods, but hopefully the reader laughs all the way to that foggy and sinister rendezvous. Hopefully.
So… what do I know? Bupkus. Look it up. Yiddish. I’m not Yiddish, so what do I know?
Here’s what I’m noticing, my brethren, which I think can be fixed, and which I hope…praise God, and Tim Horton’s, and Daylight Savings Time…I hope I am not guilty of in my own writing…
Number One: Tenses
I notice this a lot in the writing I collect from my teens in school and, distressingly, in the writing of adults that I am reading. Pick one tense and stay there. It is very distracting for the reader, and very noticeable if you merge past and present in the same sentence. As a reader, I wanted to get lost in the story, I want to live each moment, and if I felt like Captain Kirk and his teleporter have just arrived and thrust me from past to present and back again in the duration of one sentence, well… except for the excitement of being thrust upon by Captain Kirk… it is JARRING! Don’t do it! (Did you get that? That last passage sucked ass! Why? Tenses, baby. Tenses.)
Here is an another example:
The kids were all sitting around wondering who will say it first. “This blows,” Randy said. They all nodded. Everyone agrees that it couldn’t get much worse.
This is a mess, people! We have were, will, nodded and agrees. Jesus twice on a piece of toast! It’s simple to fix. I think the problem comes when we write the same way we talk. The difference is that when we talk we can’t correct our mistakes, and rarely notice when we make them. But when we write? The words are there for all to see, and we have the opportunity… no, the obligation… to make them work right, every time, ever some good, you.
The kids were all sitting around wondering who would say it first. “This blows,” Randy said. They all nodded. Everyone agreed that it couldn’t get much worse.
Number Two: Word Choice
Oh dear. This is so… so… soooo important! Again… grain of salt, gentle reader. In my novel due for publication in September 2013, I have a character named Murple. I kid you not. And in my novel due for publication in April 2013, I have a character say “dirty-dyin’ bald-face’ed fuck”. Not once, but twice. So… ya know… my Yiddish heritage and all… I don’t know bupkus… BUT… if you write that he waved hello erratically; or she yelled athletically, or he looked at her with an excruciating smile…. I’m gonna stop reading, even for a milli-second, and say WTF? I don’t want to say WTF? when I’m reading. I want to say WTF? when my child tells me she didn’t pay her speeding ticket and now she has to go to court and pay double. I want to say WTF? when a student tells me he didn’t do his homework because the assignment got lost in his guitar case on the back of his friend’s truck that got stuck in the pits and they totalled the axle trying to get it out. Those are acceptable WTF? moments. When I’m reading? No WTF?… please.
Number Three: Show me. Don’t Fuckin’ TELL me!
Ok. I know. We all know this, right? But do we really know? If you show me something, you are giving me, The Reader, the opportunity to use my brain, to make inferences, to figure it the fuck out. I love this shit. The best writing I have read grants the reader the beautific gift of honoring her intelligence, wit, experience and common sense by showing what is happening. The Reader makes the leap. The Reader figures it out. Thank God and Tim Horton’s and Daylight Saving Time for authors who credit The Reader with the ability to figure it the fuck out!
Randy waved with enthusiasm as his girlfriend walked toward him on her incredibly long legs that were clad in skin tight jeans. “You look hot,” he said with horniness in his voice as he looked at her. Randy felt he deserved to have such a good looking girlfriend and he took every opportunity to show her off as his possession.
In this passage, not only is Randy an asshole who you hope never dates your daughter, but it is also a pedantic play by play which leaves no room for the reader to enjoy the image. How about this instead:
Randy’s eyes traveled up the long inseam of his girlfriend’s jeans, stopping at his favorite intersection. Green light, baby. He loved watching her walk. He loved other people watching her walk too, right into his arms. “You look hot,” he said. “And so do I.”
Sorry. I’m really not good at that stuff. Every time I try to write sexy scenes I just start giggling. Anyway, point is, don’t tell me he’s a horn-dog. Show me. I will love you for it.
So… those are my three things for today. I hope that helps someone, anyone, out there who is struggling to achieve their dream of being an author. I firmly believe that the difference between a three star and a four star review often lies in the author’s inspired use of tenses, word choice and showing-not-telling. I say “inspired” because there are 3,000,000 books being published out there every year, bitches!
Do you wanna be a three? Or a four point five?
I know where I wanna be. As far away from Randy as possible.
I love you all, thanks for reading!
I apologize for the profanity. I’m highly excitable.
PS: I could be spewing total horseshit, because Fifty Shades of Grey chick made a fortune writing such drivel as (paraphrased): “I chewed my lip while he shoved silver balls up my hoo hoo and spanked me, but I couldn’t decide whether to sign his twisted and carnally exciting contract, or just enjoy his money and his jet and his fancy car and his just-fucked hair.” You should probably disregard any of my advice and simply add butt plugs and genital clamps to anything you’re writing, and you’ll do just fine!
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