I make this stuff up as I go. I stand by something I read from another writer-- "anyone can write". But what elements will truly make your work stand out and get noticed? I think every writer - or everyone who dreams of writing and has attempted it -- will tell you what their weak points are when asked to give advice. Wouldn't our advice for improvement be to focus on what we struggle with the most?
If you want anyone to read your work - whether it's a friend, family member, a reader, potential agent or an editor, you need to remember one thing: Make it shine. If you choose weak verbs, use lots of passives, tell your story rather than show as much as you can, or repeat phrases and words throughout the piece it will ultimately be a work someone walks away from. But before you get to even judging those things you need to have a firm grasp on format, grammar and punctuation.
Those were my weakest points and have been were I have made the most improvement over the past year. I still don't understand all the nuances of comma usage and when it's okay to "break the rules", so I wing most of it and hope my crit partners catch the worst.
I've had a lot of people ask me to read their work - and I don't mean writers. I mean people who dream of writing and who have a story to tell. Readers who have been inspired by my story and decide to follow their dream to write as well. The hardest part for me has been to get past the poor formating and polish-- lack of paragraph breaks, incorrect formatting with dialogue, no dialogue attribution, run on sentences, inner thoughts expressed as dialogue, confusing fragments, typos, incorrect word usage (your, you're, their, there and they're), and their ability to pick a tense and sticking with it.
These mistakes are not limited to the aspiring writers who send me their work. I've judged contest entries that made a lot of these same errors as well. It pulls the reader out of the story and makes them look at the writing itself. The writing should fade into the background and the story should leap to the forefront. Perfection (or as close as you can) in the basic grasp of format, punctuation and grammar will be key in getting your story to speak for itself.
It will also be what makes your work stand out to an editor. They can help with parts of your story that are inconsistent (like timeline or conflicting facts in your world), a weakness in a character, or a plot with holes in it, but they will never take on your story if they see errors strewn across the first chapter. It's a red flag showing your writing will require more work on their part. It's a cold hard fact that they have a writer who doesn't seem to have a grasp on the craft of writing. They'll pass on your manuscript before they even find out if your story was worth reading in the first place.
It's also what will make a pro pass on your query or your synopsis as well. Learn to perfect the basics as best as you can to in order to become a true storyteller. The story will be prominent and the words will fade into the background. Allow the images you paint to color the imagination of your reader and transport them to the world in your mind.
In all good writing, isn't it the story that speaks to you? Not the writer's poor crafting?
[caption id="attachment_3135" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Stole this from Ana's site because I have no pictures on my computer!"][/caption]
And to show that I can and do learn from my own mistakes, I'm hosting a contest today where I will giveaway a printed bound copy of my first manuscript, Vampire Vacation. As a bonus, it will be signed and numbered. These are copies I was originally going to send to book reviewers, but I found so many typos and areas that needed tightening I couldn't bring myself to do it. It is currently going through its fourth edit since it was printed back in late December, but I sincerely hope you can enjoy the story despite the many flaws.
An entry consists of subscribing to our blog (RSS link over on the right hand side bar) AND commenting on this post. Winner announced in two weeks. Sorry, no international entries at this time.