As both a writing professor and an editor with my Knife Services, I see all manner of writing from the best and greatest writing to the worst and most unfortunate. When an autopsy for your story or book is necessary, it may require a scalpel. In fact, a Stryker saw may be needed to cut it to the bone. When I speak to other writers and editors, what I hear again and again about a book’s rejection is that it failed in one or more of the Ten Deadly Sins of writing and here they are:
10. No sense of play/fun comes through on the page. The author is not passionate over his/her story to the degree that it shines through. Solution—rewrite with a smile.
9. No sense of specific audience the author is writing to excite. It is difficult to determine the genre and thus, the audience. Solution—rewrite with a cold eye as to what category your story falls into.
8. No sense of forward-moving plot/action in the story. Solution—work with the word compelling tattooed on your brain or taped over your computer along with a list of and how all five senses can be placed in a scene.
7. Pronoun references are weak; pronouns proliferating to exclusion of naming people, places, and things. There are many errors that involve pronouns. Solution—name names and repeat names of people, places, and things. Triangulate the character’s five senses and sometimes his/her sixth sense into each scene.
6. Cluttered sentences; overblown sentences and paragraphs. A given character or characters are blowhards—going on in paragraph-length dialogue segments. Solution—break into lengthy dialogue segments with “action” lines or “interruptions” from other characters.
5. Action stops cold with description of a person, place, or thing. Writing does not involve action in the descriptive segments. Solution—strive to sift everything through the mind and five senses of your characters, especially your main characters.
4. Passive Voice takes over throughout the story; Active Voice is dead or nonexistent. Helping, linking, and the verb to be proliferate. Twelve wases appear in a single paragraph. Solution—wrestle the verb to be and helping verbs to the mat and replace them with active verbs; takes work but can be done.
3. Sentences are filled with qualifiers—words that qualify otherwise strong nouns and verbs. Sentences are riddled with qualifying remarks that undercut otherwise strong sentences. Solution—when in doubt, strike it out; when a word like very or maybe or sometimes does not generate power or allow the power to fall on the subject noun or verb, then excise this qualifier.
2. Dialogue is wooden; dialogue is perfect English but imperfect pitch. Too formal dialogue reads like bad lines for the Native American character in a western. Dutifully study how people speak, and have all your characters talk differently from one another, each with his own cadence and ticks.
1. Failure to wring drama and conflict out of situations and characters. Solution—no guts, no glory; no conflict, no story. A story is a war (or should be), and a story without a war is a snippet. Each chapter should set up obstacles to one’s character. Character plus conflict equals drama.
In addition--do not stop your ACTION to describe a person, place, or thing. Place the thing, the setting, the other character into the perceptions of your main character. It is of little interest that “authorities” suspect the victim is already dead, but it is of huge interest to the reader that “Marcus” or “Katrina” suspects this.
I hope these comments are of use and helpful to you in rewriting and finishing your novel or story. To locate direct help from me and my Knife Services, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.