Every acquisitions editor has a few red flags in a top desk drawer. This list may save you time with rejections.
- Ten cent transitionals like suddenly, then, next, realized
- Actions that come after they occur (eg Stella walked on, having shut the door behind her.)
- Bouncing blonde curls (You wouldn’t believe how often I read stories where blonde curls bounce around. Also, raven hair.)
- Without a doubt, paragraphs jam-packed with sentences beginning with modifying phrases.
- Dialogue tags like “chuckled”, “said flirtatiously”, “shouted”, “gasped”, “For which better dialogue can be substituted,” Mel advised testily.
- Exclamation points, except for the masters Ray Bradbury and Tom Wolfe! (and you get to use them for interjections, but not many!)
- Frequent adverbs, except for the master Bill Bryson’s timely use of these.
- ALL CAPS DAMMIT.
However, there are no hard and fast lines. Many editors think all use of the passive stinks like old fish, but two of my favourite writers, Wodehouse and Churchill, use the passive form a lot, and for excellent reasons, so the passive is not much of a red flag for me. One reason authors love writing is that we enjoy our creative freedom. Do what you like. I read somewhere that McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies was rejected (passive, because the ms is more important than the editors who rejected it) many times for its slow start, and it became an adored bestseller.
How comforting it is to know that none of us will ever catch everything. That’s why we employ brilliant, talented copy editors to work over our manuscripts. Pay them. Pay them more than they ask.
I hope you’ll have another brilliant writing week. Cheers Mel
This week from @yourwritingmuse: I admire the way your first paragraph gives us time, place, tone, and hints at the central conflict. Your Writing Muse