Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Writers Get Rejected (Part One)

You send a query out, or perhaps a full manuscript, and before you know it, you receive a rejection slip in your email box.  What gives?  Why don't we like your work?  Here are seven common reasons why we rejected your work:

1.  Too many grammar and spelling mistakes or poor manuscript formats.  Although many writers have a grasp of the basic writing mechanics, some don't and when we see constant errors, we reject the manuscript.  Solution:  Have your manuscript vetted by a writing workshop, either online or in person.  Hire an editor to copyedit your work.  

2.  Cliches throughout the manuscript.  This one seems to occur frequently.  Old sayings such as "fast as lightning," "he rubbed her the wrong way," or "raining cats and dogs," are worn out and have little meaning.  Find new and interesting ways to say them, or if it really is raining cats and dogs, show us kittens and puppies falling out of the sky.

3.  Telling, not showing.  If you write that Joe got a glass of water, that's telling me.  If you write: "Joe untangled himself from the student desk.  The stained and grooved walnut held scars from countless student pens and pocketknives from nearly a century of use.  He idly ran a finger along the groove and looked around, hoping no one would notice as he made his way toward the sink to get a cup of water..."

4.  Infodumping.  This is a common problem too.  Basically you tell us everything about the world and situation in several long paragraphs where there is no action and little characterization.

5.  Starting in the wrong place.  Your story needs to start where the action starts, often called "in media res" or in the middle of things.  Giving us background without action is boring and we don't really care if we aren't engaged with the plot and characters quickly.

6.  No plot.  Oddly enough, many books lack plot.  Plots come from characters and are the driving force of a genre book.  If your characters aren't striving for something, the book doesn't have a plot.  The book must have a climax where the protagonist must make a crucial decision that causes the tipping point in the novel.  If you can't point to that tipping point, then you have no plot.

7.  Not enough motivation.  Characters must want something, even if it is a glass of water, to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut.  But there needs to be a serious motivation with a consequence if the character fails in his or her task.  The consequence must be huge: end of the world, blowing up a small planet, set loose a disease, someone dies,  lots of people die, someone goes bankrupt, character will end up in poverty, etc.  Most writers who come up with conflict may only have minor stakes and the situation isn't dire enough to warrant the readers' investment in that character.  

Next month, we'll continue other reasons for why writers may get rejected...

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