Making The Cut

pumpkinsWe’re coming up on my favorite time of year – Halloween! So of course, I’m doing a little tidying to make room for pumpkins, etc. And since I was on a tidying roll, I cleaned out my Kindle. I deleted 31 out of 68 free downloads. Actually, this had more to do with losing new downloads in the archives than pumpkins, but it got me to thinking.

Why eliminate those books and not the others? What is it about them that makes them less desirable than the ones I kept?

I’m not a critic. In fact, I make an effort not to write critiques, just the occasional review. Since I spend my working days grading papers, it’s too tempting to point out errors and make suggestions. That’s not the point of a review. They’re about sharing your general reaction to the story as part of an on-going, larger conversation with other readers.

But as a teacher, I gotta tell ya – grammar errors slay me! They are just too distracting! And it’s not just because I’m a teacher. They’re glaring to anyone familiar with books. So please, check for –

1) Run-on sentences – You cannot join two ideas with just a comma. If they belong together, use a conjunction!

2) Apostrophes don’t indicate plural. They show contractions or possession. Learn the following –

student = One student
students =
Two students
student‘s =
One student owns
students’ =
Two students own

3) Commas separate descriptive phrases from main ideas in sentences as needed. Don’t use them unless needed, but do use them to separate introductory elements, especially if the sentence begins with a dependent clause –

Even though I would rather go to the beach, I went to the library to study.

Grammar errors are particularly frustrating because grammar is really not that hard to learn! Changing the oil in your car takes more skill. I’ve collected some free places to learn here – http://spcollege.libguides.com/gum

The other area where books are sometimes sadly lacking is in description. This is the one area where you can gain weight with impunity, so take advantage of it!

pumpkinpieWhat do your characters look like? What do they wear? Do they have a signature hairstyle, garment, gesture, mannerism, favorite saying? Tell me what each person looks like, sounds like, acts like, so I can recognize them on the street. Then they’re real.

Don’t mention their back story in a few sentences, especially if it’s their primary motivation. If someone grew up in poverty and is struggling to overcome it to the point of ruining a relationship, you need to show how bad it was. Have them remember a painful incident, meet an old acquaintance, get arrested for unpaid parking tickets, anything other than a blanket statement! Their situation just isn’t convincing if you don’t see where they’re coming from.

Don’t resolve their conflict in a few sentences. You take away the reader’s reason to care if you don’t show your characters working through a problem. Describe the fight or the struggle. What effort does it cost them? What do they have to sacrifice? What does the other guy look like?

Even a novella or short story needs enough specific details to convey a sense of reality. One of my favorite stories is Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It’s a great example of how Kafka explains who Gregor is and the world he lives in by explaining, in detail, how Gregor looks and acts as a bug. Check it out!

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