Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I’ve just read the first three pages of a novel (Amazon and some publishers let you look inside a book before deciding to buy it) which shall remain nameless. The British author is a man whose well-known mother wrote a book years ago that I loved. The mother should have edited her son’s book before he sent it out, but apparently her celebrity was enough to overcome his poor writing skills.

Okay, it's just my opinion, but the things I found in less than a thousand words at the beginning of the story, have been listed dozens of times in writing articles and books on “what not to do.”

To begin with, he starts with the weather. From what I’ve read, that cliche died with Bulwer-Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Item number two. We’re told, “Don’t describe your point-of-view character.” Yet, right there in the first paragraph are sentences with the viewpoint character finding “...tears on her rosy cheeks...” followed by, “...nipping at her brown eyes...” and “...hat pulled over her short hennaed hair.” Like she knows her cheeks are rosy, or thinks about the color of her eyes and what she does to her hair at that moment? Give me a break.

But there’s more. Being the first page of the first chapter, there’s only space for two more paragraphs and then we’re on page two, where the author writes: “...she asked concernedly.” What? The author thinks her question, “What’s the matter?” doesn’t show her concern, and he has to point that out to the reader?

The top of page three contains the following:

“...shook her head incredulously.”

“...he glared contemptuously at her.”

Pardon me, but didn’t I learn not to use such adverbs, but to let the dialogue and action convey the attitude of the characters?

Is it any wonder I stopped reading at that point? Why didn’t the editor stop there too and throw the book in the “Return to sender” basket? Because his mother is So-and-So, that’s why. But couldn’t they at least have cleaned up the prose?

What’s worse is that this novel was published by one of the Big Six traditional publishing houses in the U.S. What hope is there for me or the rest of us who follow the rules? Apparently, if you know the right person, the rules don’t apply. Like it wasn’t hard enough already to get published.

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