Things that give me the heebeejeebies

Ok, I’ll admit there are a lot of things that give me the heebeejeebies…no Twinkies in the house, insufficient quantities of limeade for the beagle’s margaritas, loss of cabin pressure when I’m flying…you know, the normal things. But there are certain things that can set my hair on fire when I’m wearing my editor bonnet:

Honesty

I’m the first to screech from the bowels of my batcave that above all else, I demand honesty. Lie to me and you’re beagle banhammer. HOWEVER, one needs to exhibit some restraint, as can be seen with this query letter I received:

I know this needs a solid edit, so I’m looking for a great agent or publisher to make this really shine.

Le ouch. Every cell in my body is experiencing a collective wince. It’s assumed that no manuscript comes directly from the hand of the Great Cosmic Muffin and editing will be required, but to admit that one’s work is still in the rough demands psychiatric intervention. Query letters are meant to SELL, to ENTICE, to MAKE US SLOBBER ALL OVER OURSELVES.

I must excuse myself for a quick hit of Pepto.

And speaking of editing…

I’ve been professionally edited by Great and Holy Freelance Editor, who was once an editor with Dell/Random House/Simon and Schuster/any other big house of your choosing who tore my work apart and rebuilt it from the ground up so that it’s polished. She says my dialog is my strong suit.

Erm. I see this A LOT in query letters, and writers need to stop and consider what this means to the poor slob (me) who’s reading the query:

  1. You’re insinuating that any critiques I may have make me a slobbering idiot who shouldn’t be let out of the house without a keeper. While the latter may be true, you’re putting me in a tough spot when critiquing your work because I’m wondering if you’ll come unglued and invite me to make merry with the barnyard animal of my choice. Been there more times than I care to remember. Just because someone else rebuilt your story doesn’t mean that it’s the story that will rock my house. And for the record…her dialog was horrendous.
  2. I’m wondering what kind of input the freelance editor had. I’ve seen cases where the freelancer practically rewrote the thing to make it submission ready. How do I know this? Because the author was a complete disaster during the editing phase. The quality of rewrites was like day and night.
  3. Tastes vary. A work that has an editor name imprinted on it means zilch to me because it’s a paying gig. Yes, the good editors are choosy about the works they accept, but it’s still a paycheck, and their job is to make a gourmet meal out of mush. There is just so far they can go with a work. Just because you paid $1600 to a freelancer doesn’t mean your work is publishable. I’ve seen plenty of these types of works that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot cattle prod.

Point of View in Query Letter

I read a query letter yesterday where the story unfolded from one character’s point of view (a woman). However, the first three chapters were told in another character’s POV (her husband). It was unsettling because I couldn’t figure out the disparity between the author’s chapters and the query letter. This truly felt like the husband’s story, so I was left scratching my melon.

Of course books open with POVs other than the main character – I totally get that. But do be mindful about your first chapters and how they relate to your pitch. It should be an easy transition.

Remember, we know zilcho about you or your story, so we have to draw conclusions based on what you give us. If we feel confused, what do you think our ultimate reaction will be?

Dialog

Gah. I know many people who give seminars and write books based solely on dialog. Why? Because dialog is the lifeblood of a story. Readers can’t subsist on narrative alone – even really good narrative. At some point, we starve for dialog because it’s a natural break. It’s the action. It’s what puts us in touch with the character, where we get a taste for their personality.

Because dialog is so vital, it’s gotta be good. It’s gotta be realistic. Read my lips…IT’S GOTTA BE REALISTIC.

How many of us speak without using contractions? Unless you’re Data from Star Trek, you don’t say, “I do not think I will have meatloaf tonight for dinner.” Yet time and time again, I see stilted dialog like this and it makes me want to scream.

We don’t talk like this in real life, so why on earth would you create dialog that makes your characters sound like Mennonites or robots?

Furthermore, most of what we say is dull, dull, dull. Stop and pay attention to the things you say. It’s filled with, “Hi, how ya doin’?” “Fine, thanks.” “Have a seat.” “So how’s life treating you?”

Blah. Who cares? You can take care of that nonsense in one swoop by writing, They greeted each other and got down to business.

Unless it’s your intent to bore your readers to a slow, miserable death, use only the dialog that will actually engage the reader. It’s not small talk – it’s the interesting stuff. If you don’t know the difference, then you need to read more books and analyze effective dialog from your favorite authors. Or take a writing class.

So that’s it. Heebeejeebie time over. Go. Write. Be brilliant.

6 Responses to Things that give me the heebeejeebies

  1. Lynn, you so make me laugh! But terrify me at the same time.

    Excellent advice delivered with pithiness and the scent of brimstone.

    Thank you.

  2. kimkircher says:

    Ha! Good thing my husband doesn’t say things like, “I do not think I want to have meatloaf for dinner tonight.” That would sound a bit creepy. Even if it’s true.

  3. Alison, don’t be fearful of me. It’s the beagle you need to worry about.

    Careful, Kim. I lurve meatloaf. But I do not think I will have it tonight. Eeeep! See? Sounds totally lame, doesn’t it?

  4. NinjaFingers says:

    Heh. Of course, sometimes one might have a character that talks in stilted dialogue for a *good reason*.

    (Which reminds me. I have a personal pet peeve for typed accents. Is it me, or do only newbies use them, or is it that when a good person uses one you don’t *notice* it as much?)

  5. That goes without saying, Ninjie. But in those cases, the writer has given the proper setup.

    Accents…oy, don’t even get me started!

  6. NinjaFingers says:

    So…its not just me?

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