Challenge,  On Writing

Editing Observations…

Just a Few Things I Wish I Had Known…

At the moment, I am reading a lot of stories for Pulphouse Fiction Magazine. Pulphouse is never open for submissions, but these were rewards in the Pulphouse Kickstarter. Backers could write a story to a different topic, one per month.

I had planned to read them as I went along, but running too fast in a 5K fun run and a crash and burn and then a new shoulder set back my reading. And since I like to give as personal a comment as I can on each story, I had to wait until I could once again type with both hands.

So now I am reading and enjoying the process a lot. And finding some stories to buy along the way, which is the point.

I go at each story with the hope I will like it, it will fit into Pulphouse, and thus I will buy it. But alas, something tends to derail me in most stories. And as I read more and more, I am seeing more and more patterns in why I don’t buy (or sometimes even finish) reading a story.

So I figured I would do a series of blogs here from an editor perspective as to the patterns I am seeing. (I will NEVER talk about one story… these are just patterns.)

Also, because Kris and I are doing the directed study to give writers directions to study, I am focused on being aware of these patterns and seeing the problems a writer needs to work on.

So tonight, to start off with, the number one reason I stop reading a story and move on.

Lack of Depth…

A story opening is a character in a setting with a problem. You learn about the character from how the character describers and experiences the setting. The character’s opinions of the setting and the character’s fives senses experiencing the setting.

Many writers will start off with characters just talking (I call that talking heads in a white room) or some sort of action and plot the writer thinks readers will care about. Readers don’t care because we don’t have a character to care about in the action.

Now granted there are summary openings and voice openings that often work, but even with those you have to drop into basic depth to hook the reader completely, so the reader knows where the character is at in the world of the story.

A story that has no depth is a pretty easy rejection, sadly. The story has to reach off the page, grab me by the shirt and yank me into the story. It doesn’t do that, and I find myself actually reading words, I stop and send a letter and move on to the next story.

Pacing Issues…

That’s the second main reason I reject a story.

Depth could be great and I am pulled into a story and then at some point realize this is just going on and on far too long. I surface and send a letter and move to the next story.

Pacing is a complex issue with a lot of levels. I will stop reading at paragraphs that have five different thoughts in them and are huge just because the author can’t hit the return key. That is a pacing issue.

Writers have no idea how complicated and complex pacing is, and how pacing, when done right, can hold a story together even when other parts fail.

Pacing is also when you, the writer, know exactly what the reader is thinking and feeling and needing to know at any point in the story. That is stage four writing.

So those are the two top reasons I reject a story.

Next blog a few more.

But keep in mind, with all this I am still really enjoying the reading and the process. Not enough to ever open Pulphouse to slush, but enough that we might do this again in the next Pulphouse subscription drive in July. We shall see.

(And if you want one-one one help, Kris and I are doing this sort of thing with what we call Directed Study. It is not a class, and it is not a check-in kind of thing. We just look at your goals, your skill level, and some samples of writing and suggest what you could do to get to the next level in a study program. When done with that study program, we will suggest more. You can never get to the top of this art form, that’s for sure. Write me if interested.)






  • Em

    Thank you for sharing common problems with stories and the Pulphouse Kickstarter submissions.

    On a close subject. I wanted to ask if there’s ways of getting back into a creative mode after getting feedback from a first reader? I tend to fall into critical mode. And I want to get back into creative voice mode for correcting issues my first reader found.

    • dwsmith

      Stop giving stuff to that first reader. A first reader should only be looking for typos, not telling you how to write your story. And any changes you make from a first reader’s comments makes it not your story but a lesser collaboration.

      In other words, grow a backbone and believe in your own work and never let anyone into the process. That will solve your problem which is deadly. Keep learning and believe in your writing enough to defend it from all comers.

      • Sheila

        “grow a backbone and believe in your own work and never let anyone into the process”

        That’s how I roll, and always have. I used to read my brother’s stuff, but to be honest, I never really needed to give him any feedback, he was a better writer than I’ll ever be. I miss him so much, for so many things.

  • Rodney M Bliss

    Pacing is the part I struggle with the most. I try to start with action (show don’t tell.) And I always struggle with when to intoduce the setting and descriptions.

    Thanks for the wonderful post.

    • dwsmith

      Rodney, read the first pages of major writer’s books. You may think they start with action but they do not.

      Depth is everything in openings.

  • Chong Go

    It kills me when I find a story I kind of like, but the first paragraph is a page or longer. There’s a story in there, but the lack of returns makes reading it a grind.

  • Linda Maye Adams

    Hi, Dean

    Unfortunately, I’m finding that few are teaching these skills at all. Often, when they come up, they’re only at beginner level, or advanced beginner. I had the privilege of being taught about pacing by Jonathan Maberry. It amazed all the different things that go into pacing, from the story’s time to adding action to a static scene (like Law and Order). I’ve been reading James Rollins’ latest thriller and I can’t help looking at how he balances scenes between multiple characters and creates movement, even where there is no physical action with one group of characters. Yet, pacing is generally taught as “To speed up your action, write shorter sentences.”

    I also ran across a video by Taylor Moore where he added another layer to what I learned in Depth, about learning the history of a place to add that to the story. I’ve been reading one of his books, and it’s interesting to see how that plays out in the story.

    • dwsmith

      LOL, Linda. We teach it all, including advanced classes on Pacing and all the depth classes and everything.I think we have seven kinds of depth classes, and a basic pacing class that is a classic and advanced Pacing we did last year and will repeat. Right now we are in the middle of Advanced Dialog which has a lot of elements of pacing in the 9 weeks.

      So not sure what you mean by no one teaching this.

      • Linda Maye Adams

        I said “few are teaching it,” which translates to WMG and Jonathan Maberry). I just want to hear different voices and approaches on topics like this to enhance my understanding.