If It’s Broke

At Children’s Book Insider, Laura Backes offers common problems in stories for children, which are common problems in all narrative writing (thin plot, bad plot, flat characters, and bland, obnoxious, or otherwise unappealing voice), and concludes with a reminder about the importance of a solid command of mechanics:

When submitting to an editor, grammatical errors can distract from an otherwise strong book. When self-publishing, they’re the kiss of death. If you know you have problems with punctuation, spelling, subject/verb agreement, formatting dialogue, etc., hire a good copy editor to clean up your manuscript. There are people out there who live to fix these problems. Use them.

If these be the common problems, what are the solutions? Backes says exactly what I say to writers who ask me how to improve their writing: Read. Read a lot.

Find writers you like and read everything they wrote. If you skipped out on the great books in high school and college, consider taking another crack at them: Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina–there are lists all over the place if you need ideas on what to read:

  • 100 Novels everyone should read here.
  • Information Is Beautiful on the books everyone must read here.

The reason people like them is that they are great stories beautifully written. A lot of them. I couldn’t stand Herzog, but it always ends up on someone’s list. In matters of taste there is no argument.

By the way, if anyone is ever looking for an editor, I know a few whom I highly recommend, whose work is so good and evidence of such knowledge and skill that I am dazzled. It may surprise you that one might be dazzled by the skillful wielding of grammar and punctuation, but thorough competence always does dazzle.

Words for the day:

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.

Samuel Johnson hadn’t seen the Occupational Outlook Handbook when he said that.


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