I recently attended my third Christian writers’ conference in Blue Lake, Alabama. Every year has been a huge blessing with inspiration and workshops not only to help me become a better writer, but to encourage and strengthen me along my faith journey. I have learned so much on improving my writing from successful authors, editors, and agents. Last year I took a workshop from an agent who outlined step-by-step what agents and editors are looking for in a book proposal—at least what he was looking for. Every other agent and editor has his/her own guidelines. So I came home, went over my notes, and painstakingly composed a several page book proposal on which I spent more time than I did writing the actual book. On top of that, it wasn’t any fun. But I wrote it, just as instructed in order to provide this agent with a fantastic proposal which he couldn’t refuse. Then I presented it to him and sat quietly while he perused it. Sitting quietly while an agent reads through your work is sheer torture.
The first few pages he nodded, and I thought I had nailed it. Then he turned to my sample chapters. In fifteen seconds, he destroyed half of my work in the first three paragraphs with vicious strokes of his pen.
“Here,” he said, “resist the urge to explain.” He marked RUE in several places.
“Here, show, don’t tell.”
“Here, you are not in the character’s point of view.” POV was scratched in other places.
Well. Shoot. My Word Weaver’s Christian writing group had already critiqued this chapter and they liked it. I have struggled very hard to stay in my character’s point of view, to use strong verbs, to show instead of tell, to fire the narrator and let the characters tell the story, and to remove superfluous words. What I want to know is why I get black marked for every little nit picky (in my untrained, amateur, humble opinion) word while famous authors can break all the rules and get away with anything. Plus, having to keep all these editing faux pas in my brain ruins my enjoyment of reading for pleasure.
For example, in the book I am currently reading by a well-known author, she used four unnecessary “thats” in two pages! And in the same two pages she started two sentences with “ing” verbs, which for some reason I have yet to understand is a sign of an amateur writer. I find I’m editing this book, rather than reading it, which totally defeats the purpose of enjoying the story.
There is another best-selling author who “head hops” with abandonment. First he’s telling the story from “character one’s” perspective, then without switching scenes, he’s suddenly in “character two’s” perspective. Yet he’s rich and famous and I’m not! How did he get rich and famous? Why didn’t his agent or editor reject his manuscripts for violating rules on point of views?
How about run on sentences? I can’t even read a third best-selling author’s books because of her run- on sentences which don’t connect anything. She writes sentences like, “Tom was very handsome and his mother made cakes to sell at the rummage sale and there was a fire down the street at the abandoned warehouse and Susie disliked her new teacher and Fido, was run over by a car.” This author is also not a big fan of commas.
But as bad as these sentences are, I’ll tell you who was the worst at run-on sentences—the apostle Paul. Yes, the apostle Paul who wrote over half of the New Testament. Perhaps run-on sentences were more acceptable in the Greek. He was also careless about telling rather than showing and author intrusion. Yet with all his writing flaws, God used Paul to record His inspired words. These are published in the best selling book of all times, the Bible. Hmmm. I wonder if Paul would have made it by today’s editing standards. Just sayin’. 😊
Ephesians 1:3-14 (202 word sentence in the Greek. Look it up. It’s too long to print).