I read a fair amount of online fiction.
Every time I do, I find things in need of “sharpening” – whether it’s typos, misspellings, errors in structure/grammar (I’m not as hard about this as most people think), or inconsistencies in the story. Sometimes I’m knocked clean out of the story by the things I see; other times I can overlook them and keep up with the story. (By the way, Al Bruno III has published a piece on his blog called “Tater Bugs” which I loved; you should check it out.) I’m sort of harsh this way; if I’m too distracted by mistakes and things, it’s easy for me to give up on a story and drop it. (That says nothing of plain ol’ bad stories, though. Those go without saying to me.)
I know I’m guilty of it too. When I get close to finishing a piece, sometimes I rush through and might overlook things I would find annoying about someone else’s writing. It’s a horrible double-standard for which I feel awful. Still, I can’t help it. In my own work, I’ve taken to making sure I don’t publish anything anymore until and unless my wife has read it over for me. I just can’t take a chance on becoming everything I hate about writing.
For me, there are a few standards and priorities in writing a piece to be presented to the planet for scrutiny:
- Story content. Is this any good? Would I enjoy reading it? Would others? Did my beloved like it? Why or why not? What should be changed, deleted, or inserted to help?
- Show, don’t tell. Have I done that? If I do tell, is it as a summary or as a way of moving the scene to the next critical action bit?
- Is the dialog realistic? Sound? Normal? Over-wrought, under-wrought, believable, unbelievable, farcical? Does the reader have to translate my transliterated dialect? (I’m really bad about this last, by the bye. I go way too far with it. Sherri tipped me off to that problem. Thanks, Sher; love ya.)
- Grammar, punctuation and spelling. I don’t want to embarrass myself. Not at all. So, I’ll read it; I’ll re-read it. I’ll ask my love to read it. I might ask for a beta reader (no, I haven’t done this yet, but I will) or two to help (Sherri’s an excellent beta reader, by the way, and has done it many times for folks, including me). Is everything okay? Double-check if I can, look up things I’m uncertain of, fix if necessary, re-read again and pass it back through the aforementioned loop.
- Style. Am I using proper punctuation in appropriate areas? This goes beyond the stuff above, like periods and commas and semi-colons. I’m talking about use of em dashes vs. ellipses, and using them properly and in the right places. Should this be an em dash to indicate the statement is cut off, or an ellipsis to indicate it’s trailing off? Things like quotes – are they correct and closed properly? Am I using proper CMoS (Chicago Manual of Style) formatting? I know, I know – this isn’t priority for a lot of people but it is for me. What can I say?
- Visual appeal. If it’s a long entry, I’ll break it into pages, try to keep the reader(s) from facing a huge wall of text which might look insurmountable. This goes back to standard blog practices if I’m publishing online – keep it short. Try not to let the individual pages get too long, try not to have too many pages in a single entry for multi-page entries. Is there enough white space in the piece? Does the eye move along easily? Do I need to use italics for emphasis anywhere? Too much?
So that’s how I break it down. Formatting is last, but I think it could probably be rolled in with “visual appeal” if I wanted to. There are other things, but I can’t think of what they are.
In the end, it’s the writing that matters, but to me, these things are part and parcel with story and plot and character development.
What about you? If you’re a reader, what sorts of things are you looking for in a story you read? How important are good style, punctuation, spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc., to you? If you’re a writer, what sort of scrutiny do you put your work through? Do you have a favorite tool to help you get it done?
Just some thoughts about online publishing and writing I thought I’d toss out. Sound off, y’all.
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