Avoid Rejection – Editors’ Pet Peeves
Hi, my name is Rosalie and I am the first to admit there is a lot about writing I don’t know. There is however, a lot I have learned about writing fantasy since I have been studying the topic for the last fifteen years. Experience has taught me a great deal, often the hard way.
Like art, writing is an indefinite science, but there are rules that help improve your readability. There are guidelines that improve your chances of publication. If you plan to self-publish, it is vital these rules are part of your writing craft. Self-publication removes the support of a team of editors. Their advice and expertise can identify a weakness in a novel or in a writing style. Once recognized, correction and improvement should become a habit.
Anyhow, I contacted three editors who shared their ‘pet peeves’. We can discuss how to rectify these problems once we know what we are looking for.
Editors’ Pet Peeves
Barbara Ehrentreu, who edits for two publishing houses, said her pet peeves are:
– Run on sentences: So many authors keep adding clauses to their sentences and connecting them with commas.
– Long paragraphs with a ton of exposition that puts me to sleep.
– Too many dialogue tags with anything but said. I’ll take replied, but using anything else detracts from the sentence. Many times, you don’t even need a tag if the author has delineated the characters with one or two at the beginning of the dialogue.
Karen McGrath, Muse Content Editor said:
– I don’t like to see more than three POVs, preferably only one or two. It’s my worst pet peeve.
– Passive voice used inappropriately is another one.
– I really sigh when an author has characters use dialog out of line for their age or characterization.
Nancy Bell, Muse Editor said:
– I don’t like to see a lot of passive voice, also inadequate research resulting in a lot of rewrites for the author, too many and/or awkward dialogue tags, overuse of em dashes (–) and ellipses
– (. . .).
– General overuse of the same words or similar words, which we all are guilty of I might add. In particular the words, then, he, she, a character’s name, had, had been, that.
Thanks to these editors for their time and interest in our writing.
Now, can we recognize and replace, remove or somehow avoid those pitfalls?
Run on Sentences
Commas have their uses, but if they are creating run on sentences it is time to rethink their use. I heard that sentences should not exceed twenty-five words. Anything over that might constitute a ‘run on sentence.’ At least it could use looking at for improvement.
Paragraphs That Have Too Much Exposition
I have a feeling Barbara is describing what fantasy authors refer to as info-dumps.
The temptation with fantasy to explain things too early or too in-depth is hard to resist. Remember that as long as the author knows everything there is to know about the characters, the world and the conflict they are creating, then that’s fine. Readers are on a need to know basis, they are looking for action, emotion and a story to flow. Background is necessary but in small easy to absorb portions. As long as the author has all the information, it is their skill to share it carefully. A passing comment, a name dropped, a reference given can be all that the reader needs to follow the plot.
Pronouns. The guidelines on the use of ‘he said’/‘she said’ vary from publisher to publisher. Barbara’s comment refers to the idea that these simple dialogue tags become invisible to the reader. These editors are working in today’s ebook industry. Their comments are up to date and apply to books about to be published. There are ways to limit the need for dialogue tags. Showing the reader actions and character emotions can give more information, identify who spoke and avoid repetition of ‘he said’/‘she said’.
Care needs to be taken using character names and pronouns. Keeping the reader in the loop is vital. Overdosing them with character names, ‘he’, and ‘she’ is not. How often in dialogue do we name our subject? When we talk among ourselves we know who we are talking to, so we should reflect that in our writing where we are able. An occasional name or pronoun is necessary. Overuse is something we need to watch out for.
As writers we strive to use active voice. The rule of Show Don’t Tell applies here. To avoid passive voice, rethink forms of the verb ‘to be’: was, were, had and had been can often weaken our writing. Again, this topic deserves a discussion of its own.
Too many POVs
That’s an interesting one. Karen was not referring to ‘head hopping’ where the Point of View changes abruptly, but telling a novel from too many character viewpoints. Readers identify with the main POV characters and moving away from their story can cause the reader to lose interest. Not what we want!
Em dash, ellipses. (…)
When editing for the digital world the use of the em dash (–) ellipsis (. . .) and exclamation mark (!) becomes problematic. Although they have their uses, remember in this day and age we must cater for ebooks and not only print format. Besides the technical headache they can create, their overuse weakens writing across the board. They often indicate a break in the flow of thought. Any break can cause the reader to hesitate and should be justified before inclusion.
There are other pet peeves I have heard editors quote. This is my favorite.
Autonomous Body Parts
The most often used examples are ‘his eyes followed her’, ‘her hands fell into her lap’, ‘my nose is running.’ Avoid if possible. There has to be an alternative way of saying things. ‘His gaze followed her’. ‘She lowered her hands into her lap,’ and ‘I have a runny nose.’
There are other hints and tips that can help us avoid the dreaded rejection slip, or ensure our self-published novel is as good as we can produce. For now though, I am grateful to Barbara, Karen and Nancy for giving us an insight into what annoying problems we can eliminate from our work.
Next article will address the task of applying polish to our manuscript.