Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ask the Editor - What Turns You Off?

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What turns you off the most in a manuscript?
Marilyn Meredith
Book: Kindred Spirits
Buy from http://www.mundania
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A caveat to start: IMHO a “turn off” is a subjective judgment. It is fair to say that one person’s turn off just might be someone else’s “Oh boy, do I love that!” Having said that, here are some of my least favorite things:

1. A novel that starts with the character waking up, hung over or not, fumbling for the alarm clock (or telephone or staggering to the door or whatever) then showering, and observing self in mirror. Maybe it’s just me, but I always take this as a cheap, lazy-writing way to reveal the character’s looks and maybe a few other points. My attitude probably comes from the fact that this opening has been done to death. It’s a really good idea to figure out what those DTD things are and not do them!

2. Mysteries that resolve the plot through some “cheat the reader” device like the spontaneous, no-warning introduction of an evil twin or something equally preposterous. A big part of having a successful novel is to respond to and satisfy your reader’s expectations. In a mystery, the readers love to follow along, figuring things out, trying to out-guess the villain or the sleuth. You need the right mix of real clues and red herrings to keep the reader intrigued. The reveal should be the payoff, not something that leaves the reader feeling tricked.

3. Novels that start with several pages of meaningless, chitty-chatty, salt-and-pepper dialog. This kind of dialog needs to be minimal regardless of where in the story it is placed, but an overdose of it right up front is just deadly. The opening needs to engage, and to engage you have to get your theme across. That can be accomplished with action, narrative or meaningful dialogue, but several pages of pointless chatter, no matter how witty or clever, probably isn’t going to do it.


Billie Johnson Billie is a publisher with Oak Tree Press, located in Central IL. Oak Tree Press sponsors three annual writing contests and a writers conference. You can find out more about Oak Tree Press at Visit our company blog, too!


  1. I'm not always good at figuring stuff out in novels, but I also hate when the solution comes out of left field.

    Morgan Mandel

  2. Thanks for the list, Billie! I can think of a dozen or more novels I've read lately that use at least one of the examples you mentioned, if not more.

    It's hard not to internalize images like that when they're so common today, but I see how it can really irk editors to see them over and over. Thanks again for the reminder!

  3. Good answers. Going to print it out and take it to my writer's group tonight.


  4. Some good information! And loved the link--thanks!

  5. This is such a great blog thank you for sharing.

  6. I cringe at the bathroom mirror 'trick'. It always makes me suspect that the author isn't comfortable with Showing vs. Telling.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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