Thief of Something
I am a thief.
There, I said it. I hope you don’t mind that I’m using my blog as a confessional. I feel so much better now.
Actually, that’s not true. I lied. I feel about the same as before. Except maybe a little guilty about pretending those four words assuaged some deep-seated guilt. Trust me, my guilt is almost always seated near the surface, like algae.
Also? This blogpost isn’t about stealing.
You probably shouldn’t trust anything I say from here forward.
Except, maybe, these lessons I’ve recently discovered (some for the hundredth time) in my role as a freelance editor of fiction:
- Pet words and phrases that are used over and over and over and over and over and over and over again can make an author look far less skilled than she actually is. Please note: writers are often blind to these tendencies. Thus, editors.
- “People who get all creative with dialogue attributions make me want to ban the thesaurus as a writing tool,” he burped. “Seriously, folks, ‘said’ is fine most of the time,” he hiccuped. “Sometimes you don’t need anything at all if it’s clear who’s speaking,” he reiterated with an annoyingly unnecessary attribution.
- Christian fiction is allergic to the word “nipple” and it doesn’t matter if that nipple belongs to a woman or a man or, presumably, a pipe fitting.
- Since publishers usually work with a tight schedule (and also because it’s the right thing to do, professionally), writers should never miss a deadline. However, no one will be celebrating if you meet that deadline with an unfinished, sub-par, plot-hole-filled manuscript. Obvious takeaway lesson here: Frequent, honest communication with your editor is critical to having a successful writing career.
- You know those books you’ve read that have terribly unsatisfying endings? See note above.
- If you can’t imagine how the protagonist of your novel would act after waiting in a long line at a packed Starbucks only to being informed by a surly barista, “we’re out of coffee,” then it’s quite possible you haven’t sufficiently developed your protagonist’s personality.
- Showing vs. telling is still one of the greatest challenges for writers. But I’m finding that it’s equally challenging for writers to tell a story without resorting to flashbacks. I’m not a flashback hater. Sometimes a flashback is necessary. Sometimes a flashback works fine. It certainly is a convenient way to impart information. But is it the best way to tell that piece of the story? Before stamping a flashback scene with “It is finished,” consider other ways to reveal the critical info to readers.
- A subplot that suddenly goes away is like a buffet that’s out of teriyaki chicken when you were just beginning to think how nicely that teriyaki chicken would complement your fourth helping of shrimp fried rice. Subplots that serve no purpose might as well not be on the buffet in the first place. (Just pretend the metaphor works, okay? Thanks.)
- On a related note, subplots don’t need to be neatly tied up by the last page, but they ought to at least point toward appropriate resolutions.
- If your monkey can’t fly on page 7, your novel demands that you develop a believable argument between pages 7 and 212 for why he can fly on page 213. For the record: “because that’s what the plot needs” isn’t good enough.
Guess what? If you’ve read this far, my opening line isn’t a lie after all. I stole some of your time.
And I’m not giving it back.
Have a nice day.