pokeapache asked: Hello there! I was just wondering if you have a limit on the size of submissions. Obviously you probably won't want to read a whole book! But as a good rule of thumb, would you cap it at a page length, or would you take a whole chapter or maybe even two? Is there anything you wouldn't want to criticize? I'm mostly curious, but I also want to help make sure you don't get giant walls of text miles long from fifty or a hundred different people... :)
I think I said 1000 word submissions in the submission guidelines. That could be 1000 word snippets of longer stories, or just 1000 word stories. I would read a whole book if I was interested. I wouldn’t want to look at work that hasn’t even been self-edited once. If you haven’t spell/grammar checked it isn’t worth my time.
I think I found a lesson from the piece I just received. That lesson is finding a voice for yourself.
Finding a voice means combining a few different things, which are:
- Developing a purpose for your writing.
- Not writing to sound a specific way
- Writing for an audience
Thank you to Kit for submitting a wonderful piece, her tumblr is here: http://kitfluff.tumblr.com/
She asked me to discuss her use of language, which actually plays a major role in finding your voice.
The first thing I want to address is the topic “developing a purpose for your writing”. Before you even touch your fingers to the keyboard, or put pen to paper you have to analyze why you are writing. Do you want to be published? Do you want to just get your stuff out there? Or do you want to stash your work in a desk drawer?
Each of these options will reflect in your writing.
The first option, “Do you want to be published” will probably have the greatest impact on the way you write. This will require you to take extremely harsh criticism at times, and really be willing to adapt your writing for someone else. That someone else is key, because you are no longer writing just to satisfy some artistic passion, you are writing to please the publishing houses.
What does it take to be published? For starters, an insanely creative mind. Amazing images, and a perfect balance of descriptions. Hard work and strong awareness of things to improve upon. But in the end, your work will reach its fullest potential. It will be streamlined and interesting, and people will follow you around in packs.
To be published you have to know the industry in and out. That means reading everything you can on the subject, learning what sells and what doesn’t sell. The vampire craze after Twilight reflects that.
How does this relate to the piece I received today? Well, it just isn’t the type of thing that publishers are looking to print. Why? Because it just isn’t interesting enough. But that is fine, because with the ideas she (I’m assuming) had are perfect for a whole cadre of stories.
As a whole, the piece has no conflict. Zero. It reads more like paragraph poetry than an actual story. But in the first line, you have enough of an idea to create a novel.
Emotions aren’t always kind.
When young writers write, they sit down and say: “What kind of theme do I want my piece to have!”
In this case, it’s about the rudeness of emotion. Well, she basically wrote the whole story in the first sentence. Instead of allowing the reader to attempt to find the theme on his or her own, she gave the whole thing away right in the beginning.
You have to give your readers some credit. They are intelligent. They do not need to be spoonfed ideas. This same idea is applied to most descriptors. Young (and my young I mean not developed) writers tend to do write things like: “He was sad.” because they assume that the reader will not understand that having your best friend getting crushed by a truck will make you sad.
You guys, GIVE YOUR READERS SOME CREDIT. Instead of saying he was sad, imagine what your physical reaction would be like. You would cry yes, but that might be cliche. Not saying not to use tears, but use them in balance with other reactions. You could write:
His shoulders slumped. “Why?” he cried out. Dropping to his knees he pounded his fist on the asphalt.
This is more interesting because the reader can figure out how he feels by his actions, and almost feel the gravel biting into their palm. You are making the reader feel something, and that is the strength of a good writer.
But back to the idea of implementing themes. In our sample’s case, she says that:
Emotions aren’t always kind.
How could one convey this idea without saying it outright? Well, how could you prove that emotions aren’t always kind. What type of experience would you have to show that? A breakup? Possibly, but again, it depends who you’re writing for. If you want publishers to look at a breakup story it better have some god damn interesting twist in it.
This leads me to my second point. Writing about love in general can be cliche. But it is only cliche when the writer tries to sound a certain way. If you try to sound super artistic and refined it is going to instantly put off your readers.
Take this sentence from the sample: “Hindsight is the greatest curse ever granted to such impassioned creatures.”
Yes, the writer put together some beautiful words, but that does not mean anyone is going to want to read it. The writer is trying to sound beautiful, and this is the inherent problem. Instead of saying to themselves, “how can I convey this idea as clearly as possible” they are saying “how can I convey this idea as beautifully as possible”.
In order to create truly amazing work, you have to be able to get ideas across as clearly as possible without saying them outright. Sounds like a paradox, I know. But if you realize that forcing your reader to open a dictionary to understand your piece is going to completely kill your continuity. The second the reader doesn’t can’t figure out a word or a sentence, they are probably going to put the story down.
This idea significantly influences my final point, writing for an audience. When you write to please yourself, often you are left with something that will only make sense to you.
Instead, you should think of who you want your piece to really resonate with. Do not attempt to change the world with your work. Be specific. If you want it to sound good to teenagers, do not include words that only a person with a doctorate in literature would understand.
Pick an audience means picking one genre, or maybe two. More than that will force you to implement too many different aspects into your piece, creating a confused pile of black ink and paper.
Before you start writing, think of your audience. What are their favorite books? What aspects of those favorite books can you borrow for your own story. This is why it helps to be well read, because you truly develop a sense of what your audience likes. Maybe pick three things that your audience appreciates. For science fiction, maybe it’s heavy technology, sprawling cities, and nerdy main characters. Use those ideas for yourself.
When you combine these three ideas you have a chance to develop your voice. When writing never force yourself to sound a certain way. Readers are perceptive and will pick up on this immediately. Write to convey your ideas as clearly as possible, and to make your readers feel what you feel. This will make your writing successful.
Thankfully, I received my first submission yesterday.
He sent me a non-fiction narrative that we were able to pick apart and refine, and has now become a pretty good story.
To give you an idea of how it looked in the process, take a gander at this:
Yeah, pretty fun for him, I’m sure.
Here’s a sample paragraph so I can identify some common errors.
“We’re gonna park near Mombasa for a minute,” answered Bobby Miller who was sitting in the passenger seat, “just relax.” He was wearing a Dodgers baseball cap, which partially covered his long, black, greasy hair, a black Metallica shirt, and worn-out jeans with large rips at the knees. He topped it all off with a cigarette neatly tucked into his baseball cap. I had never spent time with Bobby, but I had heard pretty bad things about him. He made me feel uneasy.
There are three things I want to address.
- The use of “was” throughout the sample.
- The use of descriptors throughout the sample.
- Strengthening arguments.
First off, the use of “was”. In most cases, the use of this word is strictly forbidden. Simply because it is so incredibly boring.
The cat was orange, the house was big. Boring. The cat’s fur burned bright. The house blocked out the sun. Boom, instantly interesting.
Now, this type of edit can be left for a second draft, because in any first draft it’s important to just get the story out. But when going back and self-editing, make sure to look for this notorious word.
The second tip is related to the first, in that it will enhance your story, but in a different way. In the sample, the author describes various aspects of the character in order to create a certain image in the readers mind. While this is essential, it shouldn’t be done in list form, and doesn’t technically have to be read by the narrator.
Instead of saying he had a hat on that covered his greasy hair, ripped jeans, and a black Metallica shirt, he could have simplified it to an interaction between two characters. Such as one character saying to the other: “Hey, why are you always wearing that dirty hat?”
From this, the reader can see the type of person he is without being told. This streamlines the story and gives it a more widespread audience.
The third and final tip from this submission would be strengthening arguments. In the final sentences of the submission, the author states:
I had never spent time with Bobby, but I had heard pretty bad things about him. He made me feel uneasy.
This has the makings for a great tension builder. But it’s structurally weak because there is no evidence. All the reader knows is that bad things are being said about Bobby. If the narrator revealed certain things that he heard it would create greater depth to the story, as well as strengthening the author’s argument that Bobby was a bad person.
Not only would it enhance the first sentence, it would verify the narrator’s feelings in the final sentence. The reader would agree with the narrator’s emotions and make them choose a side.
While this piece had a captivating plot, it just needed that push to make it even better. Hopefully these tips can help you out and enhance your own writing.
Please keep submitting!
Because of my theme and lack of tumblr understanding, the description I wrote up is not visible. I’m going to copy paste it here.
The Educating Editor is a blog run by Associate Editor Patrick Sussmann. He highlights common errors or problems in submitted pieces in order to help other writers grow.
As well as a little about myself:
My name is Patrick Sussmann. I am a student, as well as a writer, as well as an editor. As a student, I attend Rockland Community College. I am a part of the Honors Program there, a group recognized for its transferability. As a writer, I am working on several SciFi/Fantasy novels. And as an Editor, I am a part of First Inkling, a nationally published magazine that publishes only the best college educated students.
I can’t wait to start reading submissions and get this started, please send some soon!
The Educating Editor himself.