Lately, many of the rejection notices we give to writers are the result of dull story telling. Within the few lines of personal comment I include with such rejections I try to indicate what caused us to pass on the story. Most often, the phrase I use for dull story telling reads, “we feel the telling of the tale still needs work, mainly to tighten the prose and to heighten the heighten the drama within the piece”. Perhaps such a comment is too vague for some writers. Maybe I should simply same, ‘Punch up your Prose’? But even then, some may not get the point. Perhaps an example would indicate what we mean ~ that is, assuming writers who’ve received such rejection notices from us even bothers to read my blog. Ever the optimist, I’ll do just that ~ I’ll offer an example. When an editor rejects your story and you’re lucky enough to get a note or two of comment in the rejection, you can do one of two things:
1. You can totally ignore the comment and immediately submit your story to another market, hoping that market will think differently. 2. Or you can consider the comment and take a moment to read your story aloud to hear if indeed the story seems to ramble on or drag. After you do that, you can take another minute or two to visually scan over your story to see if you’ve used enough dramatic verbs within the story than passive, weak verbs.
If you decide to consider the editor’s comment, but are unsure what the phrases ‘tighten the prose and heighten the drama within the piece’ or ‘punch up your prose’, then consider the following example. Here is a basic 65 word snippet of a story opening.
Moriah jumped from her perch upon her soiled cot and grabbed the meat. Famished, she bit a hunk off and devoured it. The meat was raw, but Moriah didn’t care. She ate whatever her keepers slid through the door-slot of her cell. Locked away in the dungeon like this for disagreeing with the Contessa, she never knew when or if her next meal would come.
Interesting enough. It establishes the essentials of Who the main character is, Where she is, What is happening, When ~as far as a time period the story is taking place, and it provides a few Whys ~ why she is eating and why she is in a dungeon. It even evokes a sense of empathy within the reader for the character. What the opening Doesn’t Do is indicate to the reader that this story will be different in some way than other tales of a someone’s plight in a dungeon. The scene doesn’t stand out. The verbiage accurately describes what is going on, but it does so passively. Now let’s Punch Up the Prose and Heighten the Drama within the Piece:
Moriah leaped from the filthy cot and snatched up the scrap of raw meat that was tossed through the open door-slot of her cell. Her nose wrinkled at that rancid smell of it, yet she tore off a chunk with her teeth, and chewed. She devoured her meal in two bites. Damn Contessa Ferno! That spiteful cow! Moriah vowed she’d get even with the woman…
Can you tell the difference? Can you feel the power in the second example ~ sense the drama? Of course you can. The second examples is more immediate, more dramatic and vivid. It’s not weighted down with dull words, even though both examples contain the same amount of words. The second opening is more powerful. I might’ve blurred the When requirement, but the 5 essential ‘W’s are still there. It doesn’t mean you have to rewriting every story you write in order to punch up your tales with more vivid prose. It’s a whole lot easier to just make it a habit of consciously considering not only your word choices, but what information you want to impart to the reader in order to make the story interesting.
How you tell your story is as equally important to the success of your story as having an interesting plot and interesting characters.
If you opt to ignore an editor’s comment or a fellow writer’s critique of your story, you may indeed still have a marketable story. The next editor you approach may accept your story outright, without further edits. And that’s all fine, wonderful in fact. Writers should stand by their work and not bow to each and every whim an editor might have, laboring to rewrite a story on the basis of a single rejection letter. But if that same story receives more than one rejection, and even if only one editor bothers to offer you a hint of a reason as to why your story wasn’t selected for publication, you should reread your story aloud. Give yourself a listen with an objective ear if you can; if you can’t tell where or if the story falters, then read it to a friend or family member–unfortunately, they may not be as objective and honest as an editor.