Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Silent Partnership

February is "partnership" month at BRP. Significantly broadening the topic of love, this opens up an exploration of partnerships in a number of areas we may not consider when writing our stories. We know we need a team to put out a great book. We've visited the team discussion before, so no need to rehash it here.

However, we do need to seriously consider another partnership we often overlook: our partnership with our reader. This was recently driven home to me when I read the latest novel by a well-known and prolific writer who has made a very good living for many years from the sales of her books and the movies based on them. She's published by a large house and undoubtedly has a huge fan base. I expected a powerful and compelling read and excellence in writing, and rightly so; I am, after all, contributing to her wealth. That makes me a partner—albeit a silent one—in her success because I purchased her story.


The following is what I received.

POV: The story was told in omniscient point of view. One paragraph often got into the head of two or more characters. I had to go back and reread several times throughout the book to figure out who was thinking or doing what. With few exceptions, omniscient POV drains the power from a story. When the reader knows what every character thinks and feels, that reader is deprived of not only what should have been surprises, but also of the character development that helps create a page turner. As a silent partner, I felt cheated.

Show, Don't Tell: The story abounded in lengthy descriptions and other trivia that went on page after page. Sparse dialogue read like it came from a textbook and bore little resemblance to the way people talk. Some passages bordered on soliloquy rather than two-sided conversations. I was told the story. (Don't tell me the antagonist is a bad man. Show me by his actions what he is.) I was shown almost nothing. Not one single scene created a picture in my mind that I could relate to. As a silent partner, I felt shortchanged.


Ups and Downs: Stories, like life, have peaks and valleys—or at least they should. This one flatlined from beginning to end. It offered no emotion I could tap into, no feeling that wasn't contrived, no urge to cheer for the protagonist or boo the bad guy, no connection with any of the characters or what they were going through. As a silent partner, I felt unfulfilled.

Grammar and Punctuation: Most sentences were complete, but many of them dragged on endlessly and thus lost all impact. They should have been divided into two or even three good sentences to infuse some life into this inert story. As for punctuation, comma errors abounded. They appeared where they were not needed and were absent where they were. Sometimes, I had to read a sentence two or three times to figure out what it said. As a silent partner, I felt slighted.

Likelihood of Reading Another Book from This Author: Zero.

I'm not maligning this writer, who will remain nameless. Perhaps she creates outlines, and ghost writers turn them into stories. Whatever the case, I'm sure she doesn't know or care whether I ever purchase another of her novels; she won't miss my few paltry dollars. However, the above speaks volumes to us as writers.


Our Takeaway:
Point of view needs to be both powerful and specific. One story can contain multiple POVs, but not in the same paragraph or the same scene unless the change is clearly indicated to the reader (such as a double space between paragraphs where the POV shifts).

Telling is almost always required to some extent in a story. Description gives the reader a sense of time, place, and characters. Just keep it short and sweet. The more the writer can show action, the more the reader can become part of it.

Tension waxes and wanes in a good story. Keeping it front and center on every page exhausts the reader. Omitting it bores the reader. Find the balance.

Grammar and punctuation are the bane of many writers. Use them to the best of your ability. Then hire a competent editor to fix the places where you strayed outside the grammatical box.


We want readers to enjoy our books, and they have the right to expect us to uphold our end of the partnership. In a sense, we are product producers, and they are consumers. We owe these silent partners the best we have to give.



Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Most of her novels fall into the women's fiction category, but she will be venturing into the thriller realm with a new book scheduled for release late this year. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

7 comments :

  1. When a beloved author does this, it is the worst betrayal. That happened to me once. I don't know if it was a first draft, someone else finished it, or what. I suspect once they become famous, they stop having critique partners to help point out flaws. The big houses have cut editing staff, so it gets a cursory edit.. There is also the push to publish them faster and add secondary novellas, etc. If writers are put on a promo tour or go to multiple conferences or workshops, I am shocked they have the down time to write at all. But I'd much rather wait two years for a release than get one that was phoned in.

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    1. Well said, Diana. We obviously agree that the last book we write must be as meticulously written and edited as the first. Sacrificing quality is never acceptable——which is one reason I prefer to self-publish. When the work is truly finished to my standards, not to satisfy a publisher's schedule, then and only then do I feel ready to go to press.

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  2. I've often wondered if name authors don't get edited after a few bestsellers because the publisher assumes good sales. Not a wise decision at all.

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    1. This could be the case. However, self-published writers don't have an advantage unless they hire a competent editor, as well as professional book designers. A few years ago, a writer sent me a copy of her latest self-pubbed book. Prominently placed in the front matter, a list of four (4!) editors sat squarely in the middle of its own page. I'm not sure what they edited, but it must not have been the book I was reading. Many, many pages contained punctuation errors, fragments, run-on sentences, missing words, wrong words, misspelled words, capitalization errors, and the list went on. Anyone can say he/she is an editor. We need to qualify this: competent editor, professional editor, an editor willing to share references. Incompetent editors sully the reputations of the free-lancers who provide appropriate, meticulous edits to their clients. As you noted, wise decisions (such as in editor choice) make a big difference.

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    2. A good point, Linda. I, too, have been dismayed at some self-published books that claim to have been edited, but have many mistakes. Just like too many people hang out their shingle as "writer," too many do the same as "editor."

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  3. This is a terrific post, Linda. I think writers need to take a step back and consider what we are putting out there for the reader and how well-crafted it is. Takes more care and craft than just filling spaces with words.

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  4. Absolutely, Maryann! I wish we had a way to separate legitimate, qualified editors from the charlatans who claim a skill their work clearly contradicts. I also wish more writers knew the difference between a sister who is an elementary school teacher, a friend who has a PhD. in political science, and a professional editor who specializes in polishing various documents for submission. Each requires a different skill set.

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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.