Challenge,  On Writing

Editing and Reading Observations… Part Two…

Editors Are Super Readers…

Our job as editors is to try to figure out which stories the readers of our publications will like. But if you are putting your stories up indie and not many are selling, you might want to pay attention to some of these points I am making from an editor perspective.

I find it fascinating how many writers have no understanding of the advanced levels of craft in fiction writing. They often think that major bestsellers who sell hundreds of thousands of copies of every book are just marketed better, or lucky, when actually those writers have learned the craft of grabbing and holding readers.

But it is easier for new writers to blame marketing as the reason others sell so well than it is to realize maybe they need to become better storytellers.

So back to my reading observations as I look for stories to buy for Pulphouse from the stories sent in by Pulphouse Kickstarter backers.

Yesterday I mentioned two major reasons I stop reading a story. Lack of Depth and bad Pacing. Those two are the major two, but now how about the next two major reasons I stop reading and send a story back to the writer?

Walking to the Story… This is common because writers see it on television so much. For example, almost every series of Star Trek, almost every episode, starts with characters doing something below decks. Then they head for the bridge, often called, and when they get to the bridge the story starts. They basically turbo-lifted to the story.

This does not work in fiction. And I know I must be missing some cool stuff when I quit and send the story back, but every reader of my magazine would miss it as well.

Fake Details… A fake detail is a detail the writer puts in that has no image with it. A writer’s job is to completely control the reader and what they are seeing and feeling at any given moment, yet fake details rely on the reader to bring an image from their lives.

I use the word “barn” to illustrate this point. When I say the word “barn” I am thinking of a single-story building, built into the side of a hill, with grass on the roof. That fit your image of barn? More than likely not. So your image would conflict with mine and you the reader would get confused and leave the story.

I am always stunned how many writers in the depth workshop assignment on this topic put the word “horse” in front of barn. Not a clue why.

When there is no depth or a lot of fake details in a story, my response is that I can’t see anything.

A side note on topic… I will stop reading instantly if you have a child in danger or kill an animal in your story.  I am not getting any of that in these stories from the Kickstarter because not doing that was in the guidelines. But stunning to me how many early stage writers think those are topics to write about. Head-shaking.

Stay tuned, I have a lot of reading to do.


  • Emilia

    I took the depth workshop years ago and managed make “barn” a fake detail even though that word was the example. It’s a good reminder to to this day.

    Sometimes I get worries that if I don’t describe everything, including things the character would not pay attention to at that time, the reader will make up their own image.
    For example if I don’t describe the character’s clothing quickly the reader will imagine the character in a floaty summer dress, and when I later describe the character in shorts and a t-shirt, it’ll clash because the detail wasn’t fake but absent in the opening.

    It’s something that also fuels my critical voice. The need to make sure I’m in the character’s point of view, the pace is correct, and I’m describing everything needed.

    • dwsmith

      Emilia, you learn with the critical voice, then when writing your job is to put it all away and trust the creative voice to use what it needs to use. Don’t take that kind of thinking into the writing. Learn, then write, then learn more, then write more. What you are learning will show up over time if you stay out of the way and don’t rewrite.

      • Emilia

        Thank you, I’m mostly on the right track then. I’ve managed to write every day and I’m listening again to workshops and lectures that I’ve done. Just need to whack-a-mole the critical voice.

        • Kerridwen Mangala McNamara

          On the other hand, sometimes you *can’t* control the readers’ image, jarring contrast or not.

          I’ve read through Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series several times and I can’t help envisioning Ayla as having black hair and green eyes… no matter that she’s always shown in the covers as blonde and it is *an actual plot point*.

          It doesn’t bother me… apparently I took too heart Alice’s injunction (in Wonderland) to “believe six impossible things before breakfast”!
          …but I’ve seen this kind of thing bother others.

          I know you say we should write it once, and only edit for typos, Dean, but my process (so far) is to write the story for me, then go back and add all those details that make it make sense for others but were perfectly clear in my head! I can’t seem to tell what they are the first go-round!

  • Kristi N.

    I try to envision depth as that pause on the surface of the water, the last breath before submerging into another world. It helps me remember the senses and the details (specific details–thank you for hammering that lesson home). I’m putting aside funds this year to take Advanced Depth–I’ve been practicing the Depth lessons for almost 1M words, so it’s time to open my perspective to the next level.

    As for barn–I grew up in rural farmland, so there are cattle barns, dairy barns, horse barns, pig barns, sheep barns, and then there are BARNS. Great Barns, and the pricey, fancy barns (with hot water, indoor plumbing, and heated blanket racks).

  • James Palmer

    I suspect “horse barn” might be a regional thing peculiar to where the writer is from. When I hear or read “horse barn” I know exactly what they mean. They mean a barn especially for horses. Barns have a variety of uses and function. My parents had a barn on their property when I was growing up, and not a horse in sight. My dad was an amateur blacksmith and built a forge in one side of it. Barns can just be a place to park your tractor. Now they could and probably should write “stable” but they use the term “horse barn” instead.

    Similarly, you might use the term “firefly” where down here in the deep South where I’m from, we say “lightning bug.”