BARE BONES — OR THE FLESH (A warning rant)

Recently I’ve read samples of work by beginning authors who have asked me to critique their writing.  Usually what I see are the beginning chapters in a novel.  In all cases (yes, all) I found the bare bones of the stories acceptable.  These writers knew their genre, they had created plausible characters, the story theme made sense.  Good, strong bones.
But as to the flesh . . . .

In one story the writer opened by telling me it was a warm and sunny day.  By re-writing he could show me what the day was like, even should he want to give me a weather report in the opening paragraph.  (In the sample I read, I couldn’t see how the warm and sunny day had anything to do with the story.  Maybe later?)

Reading on in paragraph one, I soon learned the main character was far from wealthy. (His old car motor coughed and sputtered, rocking the car, when he tried to turn it off–a good description that told the reader a lot.)  Continuing,  I discovered  some of the language assigned to this man sounded quite “upper crust” if you understand my term.  Dictionary words.  Hmmm. Was there a reason for this?  Whether there was or not, I noticed that the speech of the man didn’t fit the image I was forming of him.  I guess you could say  some of the story’s flesh was sagging.

Writing blips like these can be corrected, especially with the help of a critique group and then, an editor.   Trouble is, many writers don’t know there are problems, or won’t acknowledge them.  I doubt if they have even read their work aloud, one great way to catch blips.  I also suspect that “second readers,” if they existed, were friends and relatives.  Trouble with that? Quite often our friends and family like/love us a lot, and that very liking erases any problems they might otherwise notice in what they were reading, just as our own pleasure in our work erases problems we might otherwise see.  Yes, the mind plays tricks on us.

On the other hand, if friends do notice problems they often won’t mention them because of love.  Maybe that’s best.  It’s  much easier to take even the most constructive criticism from strangers rather than friends.  (Who wants to ruin a friendship?)  Solution?  Hire an editor.

I haven’t yet downloaded one of the free or 99 cent novels being offered for e-readers, but I have heard from others that such books, often put on Amazon or Barnes & Noble by self-publishing authors, are sometimes badly written and in need of editing.

I have no quarrel with those eager to offer their books to readers.  All writers feel that urge (or dream that dream).  But those who do so without editing are, as slang has it, “shooting themselves in the foot.”   Having struggled to read a badly-fleshed story, how likely would you be to try that author again?

Readers are a precious commodity.  All writers–me, you, the members of your critique group, the people we meet at conferences–need to value them as such, and be sure our work is worthy of their interest and trust.  We must give them more than bare bones.


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2 Responses to “BARE BONES — OR THE FLESH (A warning rant)”

  1. terrysthoughtsandthreads Says:

    This is just what I needed to read tonight. I’ve put my first fiction on the back burner while I took care of some health issues this summer. I’m ready to return to what I’d started, but find I’ve lost touch with my characters. Why? Because they all sound like me. Two P.E. teachers wouldn’t sound like two English teachers having a conversation … neither would a principal and secretary.

    I have so much work to do. Thanks for the nudge, Radine.

  2. Radine Trees Nehring Says:

    For me, the secret is getting inside the person I’m writing “for.” I AM Carrie, for a short space. I am Henry. And so on. Terry, both you and I have been around long enough and experienced enough life to make this possible for us!

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