Last month I announced my new venture, CROSSxCHECKING, a critiquing and editing service. A little over a month in I thought it might be fun to critique the critiquing in a manner of speaking. (Hey, that rhymes.)
First, by way of excusing why I'm not posting more, I'm surprised at the number of queries I've already received, enough to cover my ad expenses and more. The bad news is it coincided with one of my parents going into the hospital, so something has to go on the back burner, and it's usually the blog.
Now back to the purpose of the post. I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of submissions I've received. CS offers two levels of service. For new writers or those still struggling to get published, I offer a critiquing service where I will review up to three submissions and evaluate the writer's overall strengths and weaknesses. I also offer a more traditional line edit and as an introductory offer, am throwing in one line edit with the critique if the prospective client refers to an ad.
Anyone out there who reads submissions in any capacity will appreciate that my ambivalence in offering the service wasn't so much based on business concerns as what I would do about those submissions so bad I didn't even want to finish them let alone comment. So far that hasn't been a problem, but I don't think it's mere luck. I've come to realize that those who seek help with their writing usually take it seriously enough to have learned a few things on their own. So far everyone has come to me with a solid base in some aspect of their writing and needing only a little input on other aspects to make it work.
Having said that, reading these submissions by less experienced writers has both reminded me of things I've come across in the past or introduced me to some new problems that do seem to crop up again and again with writers just starting out. So, at the risk of putting myself out of business, I thought I'd mention a few here.
Showing and telling
Many writers perceive their problem to be one of "telling" rather than "showing" when, in reality, they are doing both at the same time. New writers have a tendency not to trust in their abilities. They may "show" a character's quick temper by having her ream out her kid for an innocent question then follow with "Mandy always had a quick temper," just in case we didn't quite get the point. The way to drive home a personality trait is not to explain what the reader just saw and never mention it again, but to weave that trait into the story. If you think you have to explain a lot to get your meaning across, read Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants."
Telling the story and no more
Some new writers create great stories. Sometimes they come up with a slightly different take on an old theme, like breakups and divorces. Sometimes they will experiment with interesting POVs. Many times these same writers will neglect the details that add richness to the story. I compare it to serving filet mignon right out of the boiler or serving it with a sauce of mild herbs. You are starting with a good base, but the sauce enhances the flavor.
Details, particularly sensory details, like smells and sounds and sights, enhance the story and make it more real. A reception where the music vibrates the floor boards and you can't hear yourself speak is different than a reception where you hear the clinking of forks on the plate. One is wild and frolicking, the other subdued and perhaps stodgy. Weather is another great way to enhance a story. You might have a bright sunny day contrast with a character's mood or situation or the gray sky could reflect that mood. Kate Chopin's "The Storm" where the weather forms a metaphor for the soon-to-be-requited love is an excellent example.
Too much drama
I've written before about the penchant for surprise endings, but even when the ending isn't a surprise, don't make the mistake of assuming it has to be dramatic. Stories don't have to end in death or even confrontation. Your main character doesn't even always need an epiphany. In real life most people just keep on keepin' on, repeating the same mistakes over and over. This sounds boring, but it doesn't have to be if the story is told well. John Updike's "Friends from Philadelphia" (sorry I can't find a free link online) doesn't end with confrontation. The young man in the story has no idea he's been patronized, but we do. While I don't like fade-out endings, subtle ending usually work best.
These are some of the things I've come across. I'll add more if the subs keep coming in. Only I'd like to make these posts off limits to anyone considering submitting to CROSSxCHECKING. Given the already great caliber of the work I've received, these little hints might be all they need.