Editing and Publishing

Yeah, right, I'm the world's best writer.

Well, sure, I think I'm pretty good. There are those who agree with me. But how in GOD'S NAME does some of the crap I read get accepted by anyone with a brain? I'm not talking about writing in which I just don't like what the author is trying to say, or when I'm not into the genre, or when I just don't personally like their style. There's a difference between not liking something and thinking it's bad, and there is no excuse for some of the idiocy I've seen in well-established writers' work.

These people break all kinds of rules of writing. Yeah, yeah, I know, rules were made to be broken. I break 'em myself. But only if there's a good reason and it's executed successfully. I'm talking about stuff that just makes me go, "Oh, MAN."


Did you ever read one of those books in which everyone talks alike? In which you can't tell who's talking unless someone tells you? Oh, oh, and how about when people talk about stuff for no apparent reason except that the author wants you to get the exposition in a supposedly original format? Oh! And how about those people who think that as long as they use every permutation of the word "said," their writing suddenly becomes varied, fancying up the parts of the sentence that aren't SUPPOSED to be colorful? What about when fictional folks say stuff they just *would not say* in real life? Or when you read the stuff out loud and it sounds totally unnatural? It is as if the author took classes and read books about speech, but never tried it. Why can't authors write how people really talk?


"As you know, Bob, you were very upset when our father died last year of heart failure." ARGUHAGHGHHHHH!!! What is that?? Flashbacks are excusable, and exposition is fine through dialogue, example, whatever . . . but for the love of God, why don't some people understand that the reader is not supposed to notice exposition? Of course, you're going to notice that you're being filled in if it's a flashback or something, but it shouldn't feel like "now, you'll need to know these seemingly unimportant details later in the story or you won't understand what's going on, so pay attention." And seriously obvious foreshadowing is just painful. Why is it that these stories are successful with such horrible exposition?


One day, at the Authors' Club, they handed out Character Cookie Cutters. And lo, they were used in every popular story. The same characters. The sexy female love interest. The macho heroic protagonist. The cute kid. The fun-loving sidekick/confidante. The Wise Character. The weird person with the strange disease/mental instability that makes antics interesting. Did you know that each of these prototypes speaks exactly the same? Sometimes they wear a certain idiosyncratic jacket or have a specific expression, and this is so you can tell them apart. Assign each a name and you have the makings of a bestseller. The characters grew up together and went to Character College before they came to reside in so-and-so's novel.

Some authors forget that characters are people, not "types" or "roles." They have to have choices. They have to have their own wills, they have to have real lives, they have to sometimes surprise their "creators." Too often I read a book and feel that the character has just told the author's story, or been a vessel for the author's favorite jokes. I want to hear the character's story. I sometimes read a book and want to have a conference with the author and point out where the stitching is showing in the eyes of the characters. I want to know the character. I want the character to exist and do things and sometimes act illogically, to not always be right, to not always be good, to change from time to time in the story, to have more than one dimension, to speak and talk and act as though they did not start living on page one, and to refrain from being any personality type's poster child. Why are these lifeless characters given stories to tell?

Sex and Violence

Sex sells. Authors know it, and that's why they stick it in the book. "It's got dirty parts," they say. "People are sure to want it." Just like with movies . . . people confuse "sexy and full of blood" with "good." I was once told that I'd never sell a story if there wasn't any sex in it. What?? If there's no sex in the story, there simply isn't sex. I've read books in which there's absolutely no reason for those two people to screw except that the author thought that would make it more interesting. I just rolled my eyes when I came to that part and came through the love scene thoroughly unimpressed. How about some content here, guys? How come sex and violence has sold many a story?


Excuse me? Someone call the copyeditor police. NO publisher in this Age of Spellcheckers should allow this amount of gross spelling negligence to pass into published pages. It was my understanding that it's so friggin' hard to get published that you damn well *better* have taken all the errors out before the editor sees it. But whatever, even if it gets to that point full of errors, it shouldn't come out that way. Is the typesetter stupid? Is someone undeserving of an editor job? Did this book just not GET any editing? Is your budget that low? Let me at it and it won't have ANY typos. (And yes, I edit professionally, thank you.) Why can't people submit error-free manuscripts?

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Comments from others:

Mikey: Firstly I would like to say that I agree I don't think that a book has to have sex and violence to need to be read it is either good or it isn't ..... I am also glad to hear that you will not compromise yours. I also agree with the part about characters and how they should be seen and understood again that is the reason of many that your time shall come, then watch out world.

Marceau: The thing that disgusts me about most fiction nowadays is that the characters are almost exactly the same every time...

Oh, and if a book has sex in it, I just don't read it. Yes, I'm serious. Um...it's kind of hard to tell before you read it...but putting sex in a book for no reason other than "hey, people will read it just for the sex!" is a good enough excuse for me not to read it.

Marintha: The typo thing drives me nuts... I have a favorite series there on my shelf by David Eddings (Yay sparhawk! :cough: :innocent smile) and there are so many little spots where there are these little typos that just sort of smack me out of reading mode.

"Wait.... what does that say? Since when is THAT a word!!!"

Or another book I tried to read that was translated (well, they tried) from japanese. When the main villain accidentally showed up cooking lunch for the good guys it was just too much!

{Yes I know I am obsessed with commenting on your essays but I just. Can't. STOP! ^^*)

Stephen: I agree with most of what you said, but I happen to like it (at times) when the author doesn't bother trying to hide exposition in dialogue or whatever. Maybe that's because most writers simply can't do it well, or maybe its because I don't like being lied to. I mean, I read a passage or whatever, and I can see that the author is trying to move the story forward while giving backstory, and I hate it! I can't stand being pulled out of the storyline whatsoever. It's insulting to my intelligence. It's like saying, "I think I can trick the reader into thinking he's reading the story or some dialogue, but he's actually getting backstory. Brilliant!" If you can give exposition without pulling me out of the plot flow, then that's great.

Anyway, that's why I'm not totally opposed to purely expository passages, especially if they're not all loaded onto the front of a story. The way I see it, if the writer's willing to give nothing but pure exposition for a few paragraphs or pages, he's making the promise that the story itself is intriguing enough to wait for. Sometimes they keep the promise, sometimes not.

But I do agree that some of the stuff out there is purely drek... just bad writing. It seems like publishers want a plot that's trustworthy but not totally worn out (tried and true but not boring... yet). THey want characters which the masses can connect with on a personal level. The innate problem with this is that most people are boring and normal, so to make them connect to your characters, you have to make them rather boring and normal. In the end, you get an uninspired, cliche story with cliche characters.

See, I think most writers (at least most beginning writers) make the mistake of thinking that publishers want something good. But that's not really true, and it never has been. They want something to sell. Of course, sometimes writing sells because it's good... but most of the time books (like any other art medium) sell because the average reader doesn't know Chrichton from Camus, Koontz from Kafka. Sex and violence sells well, and it's especially saddening to see stuff like tacked-on-at-the-last-minute sex and violence in fantasy. Not my beloved fantasy! The genre that made me like reading and writing... sullied by uninspired shit!

Crane: I especially agree with you about typos. Raymond E. Feist's latest books are PACKED with them. There's certainly one in every chapter.
AND he misspells the names of characters from earlier books. AND he suddenly gave one character a wife, children, and two brothers, where JUST THE LAST BOOK he was unmarried and had only a single sister.

Sheesh, I should go into proofreading. I couldn't do a worse job than some of the people who do it for a living.

Pedro: My characters have often 'corrected' me (as in 'hey Character X, how about now you do this?', and X goes, 'no, no, no, we're not doing THAT, we're doing THIS!') and even scolded me ('hey you nerd, weren't you supposed to be WRITING ME?!').

Also, bravo on dialogue. I am VERY CAREFUL with that. My butch midwest female DOES NOT speak the same way as, like, my, like, LA heiress and stuff? And my posh/cultured British gentleman does not speak the same as me cockney char'cter, guv! I also totally get the 'people would never talk like that!' thing, it's especially annoying when it's children - I know I wasn't that eloquent at ten, AND I was the smart kid/nerd!

Now about speech tags, you and I need to have a word...and it's not 'said' ;)