Ask yourself, is this really my best?
Years ago when I was thirteen I decided to make donuts for the first time. I timed them, watched them float, golden to the surface of the oil, drained them and handed them out to my parents guests. But one bite and their eyes betrayed their embarrassment and disgust. The donuts looked good but they hadn’t fully cooked. In my excitement, I hadn’t tasted them. It was an embarrassing lesson to learn. Now, with the fast paced world of the internet, it’s easy to click a button, share your story with the world and get paid for it! All in the matter of minutes. And if that’s your choice kudos! Only be sure to send out your very best.
I’ve been checking out reader’s reviews on Amazon and discovered most want to like a story. In fact that’s one of their favorite quotes "I really wanted to like this story!" It takes time to read a book and they want something enjoyable. They’re fair, and easier to please than you might think but watch out, because they have pet peeves.
And there are some things you just don’t want to appear in your feedback -
"There's no other, nicer way to say it. Just... BAD. Errors - typographical or grammatical or BOTH - litter the whole thing."
"I felt as if I were reading a rough draft of something that could have been much better."
"This story had some grammatical issues - I’m in eighth grade and even I can spot them."
* Fluky Grammar.
The occasional mistake is a bump in the road, and granted if the story is good, the reader is very forgiving. But when several readers make mention of it, they’re calling you on being sloppy.
How to fix: Invest in a good writer’s reference guide. You need an expert in the mix and having rules clearly stated will help you brush up placements of your comma’s, modifiers, and the like. Print out your story and start marking.
"She uses the same word over and over. It got so annoying."
* Word Echos
I was reading a free short and it was the kind of story that if posted in our workshop would have gotten raves. But I was completely distracted by the author’s overuse of one word. It showed up nine times over the course of one page. One paragraph featured the word in every single sentence. The author had a clever image but beat it to death.
How to Fix: Circle all the word echos. Discover which sentence is your favorite. Keep it. Read the section over and over until you can see how you can fix it. You might have to rearrange several sentences, or come into the sentence at a different angle altering the subject. But if you have it appearing nine times in one page - half-it.
"...but the descriptions are sub par and it's very difficult to stay involved with the story; as the mc just basically repeats the same things day in day out - page after painful page."
* You’ve Said That Already
Eagle-eyed readers are unforgiving. Tone up your middle by creating dynamic scenes that strengthen your plot and show off your character. Scenes need to be fresh and engaging for the reader. Here’s a tip from Groundhog’s day - it only works because Bill Murray does new things even though he’s stuck in the same day, it the same places. Don’t put your characters - therefore your readers - in a rut. Any scene, piece of dialogue that sounds like a rehash - scrap it!
How to Fix: Read through your story several times. Every scene/idea/conversation that has been discussed already - circle it. Every visit to a mall or classroom or setting that is eerily similar to another scene - circle it. Be honest. This won’t work if you’re defending each scene. The idea is to decide whether the content - they’re discussing the werewolf ancestry for the billionth time - is the problem, or the setting - oh here we go again he’s back at the bar doing the same thing for the billionth time - is the problem. Once you can see where you’ve missed it you can work in a fresh action, or change up the dialogue. This may lead to a side plot and a major overhaul but go with it, it could be what your story needs.
"The story jumps from action to action in a very wooden manner, without fully describing the characters or their emotions."
"Lots of flashy ideas, but no substance."
"It doesn't need just another rewrite or five, or an editor worth his or her pay, it's frankly beyond help - DOA, sad to say."
" The story/writing was so stiff and felt very detached it was really hard to enjoy it."
* Blase Faire
This happens when a writer is disconnected with his story and characters. He’s going through the motions. Four things should ring alarm bells - deadpan sentences, a whole lot of telling, more interest in explaining things ( be they worlds, scientific do-dads or mundane actions ) than moving the story forward, and indifferent characters
How to Fix: This is a content fix and it will be the most challenging. Read your story out loud. Ask yourself four questions: Have I painted a clear visual of the setting for the reader? Do I show not tell, the reader my characters emotions? Do I vary sentence length? Have I used the five senses? If you’ve answered no to all the above, don’t freak out. Take one part of your story and focus only on developing it into a complete scene. Run the gamut: Use the five senses, describe setting, and explore your character thoughts and emotions.
"... it employs so many cliches, for example: "The spectators got more than they bargained for when coming to the museum that day. Instead of viewing artifacts of times come & gone, they witnessed history being made in front of them." Isn't an artifact usually from times 'come & gone'? A person being arrested is 'history being made'?" - a customer’s review with quotes from The Sword Maker’s Seal by Trevor Schmidt.
"The story drags along with nothing happening. On top of that the author used every cliché imaginable..."
* It’s tough to avoid them but there’s nothing worse than reading a story that relies on familiar phrases. Let’s not get into cliched character’s here, I’m talking about phrases that can make a story sloppy and unimaginative. The above example is classic. Imagine this -
Lisa barged right in, "Are your bags all packed and ready to go?"
"Look, I’m already madder than a wet hen, don’t get me started," Willa wailed.
"Let’s not beat around the bush we all know why you left Mike; blood is thicker than water." Lisa put her hands on her hips, scolding her sister. "You need to buckle down and get your shit in order."
64 words and not one original thought conveyed.
How to Fix: Cliches mostly come to mind when you want to summerize. When you want to say something fast, you’ll describe your character as ‘climbing to the top of his game’, or when you’re at a loss for words and this sounds perfect - ‘he didn’t know what hit him’. Remember the occasional cliche is not the issue, it’s when you rely on them Go through your story every phrase that sounds familiar put a question mark over it. If the cliche does what it’s supposed to ( sped up a lot of back story ) leave it. If it’s stifling your writer’s voice, axe it. Remember cliches always started as an original thought. You want to be the much-quoted originator, not the follower.
"Glaring mistakes - Syd leaves a backpack in the car but five minutes later is hitting someone with the same backpack...."
""His bright green eyes reminded me of clovers and flourishing springtime leaves. He wore a pair of dark blue jeans and a black hoodie. I guessed him to be tall, but I couldn't say for sure unless I got closer to him." Not only is this a very strange description of someone's eyes, but how in the world can this character perfectly describe his eye color to me but can't tell me if he was tall or not?!?! Am I the only one going crazy here?!" Customer quoting from The Fallen Star by Jessica Sorensen & Kristin Campbell
Plot holes, blunders, mistakes, inconsistences, they happen. Don’t sweat it, just read over your ms with the specific goal of a content search.
How to Fix: Sometimes fresh eyes are needed to spot what you’ve missed or over looked. Ask a good friend to check over your ms, but specify that you want this to be a content read as your friend might feel over tasked pointing out everything from plot holes, inconsistences to grammatical errors. P.S. Always repay your good friend for his/her hard work with a small token of gratitude.
"The author of this book doesn't know then from than, when to use I or me, or basic sentence structure."
"But what got me, what REALLY got me was a sentence that read like this: "I had just went off on him."
*Wrong Word /Missing Word
I’m guilty of typing then for than, and oddly enough - if for of. The trouble with leaning on grammar programs is Mr. Fix-it won’t always offer up his helpful squiggles for sentences missing words or wrong words. You have to look for them yourself.
How to Fix: Get out the mug of hot tea, coffee, glass of Coke - whatever your favorite drink is - and sit down for a what’s-wrong-with-this-picture hunt. Goal; circle all the missing or wrong words.
"Someone somewhere along the line should have told the author about how to reorganize the material so that it had tension and suspense. It's not the what of the information, it's when you reveal it and how."
"But as it stands, it is without tension and is boring. In fact, the middle of the novel sags for the same reason the middle of many saggy novels sags, and that is the author, because she doesn't take the time to plot properly, never raises the girls' stakes."
* Saggy, Soggy middles and or Piddling Plots.
I’m going to use a movie example to show the importance of your story middle. The movie is National Lampoon’s Vacation. Absurd right? Wrong. The trouble with certain writers is they are in a hurry to get to their shocking ending or brilliant showdown without realizing neither work without the proper build-up, without the proper middle. For the punchline, of affable Clark Griswold holding security guards at b.b gun point while his family enjoys the rides at the closed Wally World, to work the middle has to have the proper build up. Had John Hughes been in a hurry there would be no Cousin Eddie, no Aunt Edna, no dreamgirl in the Corvette. The goal is not the climax, it’s the result of the journey.
How to Fix: Check your scenes make sure they have a point. A scene should develop character, plot or set the mood. New revelations, or slight reaffirming actions should happen in scenes showing a definite progress. Don’t waste time reiterating.
"The lead character was poorly developed and half the time I was rooting for the "bad" guy to kill her."
"I found this character made one wrong choice after another. I just couldn’t connect with her at all."
"The main character is unlikable and boring."
"It’s really, really awful but probably the biggest factor for making it so is the really, really bad characters."
"The main character of this book, has to be one of the most unlikable characters. Ever. She’s absolutely shallow, immature, pathetic, and lacks what actually makes a character interesting - depth. I can’t feel sorry for her and most of the time I just want her to disappear. She’s just not ‘real’."
"You cannot care about these characters because there are no layers to them. Everything is told to you through the main character, and frankly, she is a moron."
"How can the heroine of the series not be heroic at all? This girl is a twit."
* MC woes
Wow. That’s a lot of woe. Actually, most of them can be boiled down to three pet peeves - weak, cliche or flat characters. Genre will also play a part in reader expectations but for the most part everyone is unanimous that readers like a pro-action character and if they’re unlikable you have to make them at least relatable.
How to Fix: Check to make sure your characters have goals/desires outside of the big one. It could be something simple - her stomach is growling for a Big Mac or something more long term sliding into sub-plot - learning to macrame. Make sure your mc is dealing with something from the past - a memory, a loved one, a traumatic event. Everyone carries baggage, and adding some to your character will give her complexity and depth. Does your mc have an item of interest? If not add one. Make sure there is something special about your mc. Basic types cannot be changed but reactions to situations can drastically alter your character. If her reactions are too predictable tweak one and see where it takes you.
"The formatting was terrible, and to be honest I couldn't even get through the first few pages."
Readers don’t want great walls of text, nor do they want an undulating margin as they scroll down the page. But for me the pet peeve has to be when the writer has ignored the basics and dropped speech tags to the following line.
How to Fix: Patience. Spend a little time working on the format before you upload.
"This author definitely wastes no time on buildup for that first kiss, they're making out on a pool table within pages of meeting."
" I think the worst parts however were the insta-best friends and insta-love."
"Very slow read, way to much detail and description of situations. Got about half way through and it didn't seem to be any closer to the story really starting."
"The writing is fairly amateur detailing every mundane thing to a fault. "
"Every bit of minutia fills every page! Just for her to leave the house to go on a trip took pages and pages! (she had to check her bags, think about what she might need on her trip, double check her bags again, discuss her packing skills with someone else, wonder what they were going to eat on the way, and on and on and on)"
"Took way too long to get to the heart of the matter."
Pacing is one of the most difficult things to diagnose because it can’t be taught, it’s something you cultivate simply by reading and instinct. Don’t allow yourself to assume that trimming paragraphs keep dialogue will fix it, as some dialogues can be more dragging than a quick transitional paragraph. A sign of faulty pacing is when your plot is no where in sight.
How to Fix: Trim, cut, flesh out. Read your story with the purpose of only examining pace. Clip rehashed bits, reiterated junk, senseless scenes, redundancies. Trim and tighten lengthy descriptions, explanations, overlong conversations. If conversations have no action between them flesh them out. If characters are moving to fast, take a summarized scene and flesh it out.
Whew, you’re on your way! And hopefully avoided the embarrassing slams of -
"This is the final draft?????" "THE WORSE BOOK I'VE READ IN ALL MY LIFE!!!!!!! What crap." "I want my 99 cents back." "I didn't pay for this book and still believe it cost too much." "Blech!"