Quiet please - don't say a word

I just finished a re-edit of one of my books and was given some sound advice on a whole list of things that agents are looking for in order to reject your work. Don’t get me wrong. They are still looking for that book that will be a gem. It is much easier, though, to look for pet hates. If they’re there, it normally means a one liner rejection note.

So what is it they are looking for on the hate list? I’ll pick a few.

Ever heard of a writer’s crutch?

A writer’s crutch is a silent word – as common as 'he said' or a word that means a facial expression or body movement. How about ‘smile’ or ‘smiling.’ Then there is ‘turn’ or ‘turning.’ Or ‘looked’ and ‘looking.’

It can also mean an overused word in descriptive narrative. We read these words but hardly ever give them a second thought. I call them mechanical words that should either be replaced or expanded. "The car turned the corner. The car skidded around the corner. The car skidded around the corner, the tyres spraying gravel everywhere."

Another crutch can be a punctuation mark like the exclamation mark -!!!!

I was reminded of this by the editor working on my re-edit. There was nothing wrong with the storyline or the descriptive prose or dialogue. However, an agent looks at this and knows instinctively if the writer is ‘lazy’ or ‘at a loss for good words.’ That is why most agents will ask for the first 10,000 words or the first five chapters. If the exclamation mark starts peppering the pages or characters keep smiling or grinning, your work will become a reject slip.

As an exercise I looked at my book on ‘Word’ and went to ‘find’ – put the word ‘smile’ into the box and had the shock of my life. I had my characters smile or smiling over 100 times. Similar figures were recorded for ‘look.’

Of course characters are going to smile or cry but too much and the story starts to bore the reader. I lost half of the words but replacing them was really hard and that showed me how dependent I had become on easy to use silent words. The end result was very satisfying. By the time the corrections were made, the story read so much better...not that it was not already a smooth read, but rather it now seemed more interesting. The characters were showing the readers how they felt inside by ‘grimacing’ or ‘sneering’ or ‘pursing their lips.’

Another pet hate is the lack of research into some of the smallest but easiest to check story details when characters are up to something – like the proper name for a tube station and in describing the platform the character is standing on and the posters on the wall, etc. You can glean so much information from Google and other social media, including pictures, that you can study. Without overdoing the description you can set a scene that some readers will immediately relate to. Your characters will be moving around in a ‘set’ from real life and you will find yourself getting excited. That in itself will inspire you’re enthusiasm.

One of the easiest ways to improve and further your writing standards is to join the serials we run at the Story Mint. If you want advice or just want to enjoy the sheer pleasure of writing fiction join us and let your imagination run riot. I do and I have learned a lot.  Happy writing.

Ray Stone
Publishing Manager