Monday, 29 July 2013

Writing lessons learned from being an editorial intern!

I was going to write a ranty post about how much I despise London Midland and Barclays for royally screwing up my life lately (in short: I was a victim of online fraud, had all my money stolen from my account, and the bank have been utterly useless at sorting it out – it’s been a month and I still don’t have it back. And due to a combination of that and this country’s appallingly unreliable train service, I’ve had to cancel the second week of my placement as I can’t actually GET to London every morning at a reasonable price and on time…), I decided that I’ve had enough negativity for one month. So I’ve decided instead to blog about some helpful things I’ve learned as a writer from being an intern!

I’ve been an editorial intern with Entangled Publishing for two months now, and I love getting the first look at some fantastic books. It’s great to read a book you really want to see published, and have some say in making that happen. But it’s also been an educational experience because I get to read books with a critical eye, which has begun to seep into my own writing, too. And this is a good thing!

So I’ve decided to list some of the things that turn me off when I’m reading a manuscript (excluding tropes like insta-love, love triangles etc. because I’m aware that they can be a matter of personal preference!). But here are some of the things that turn me off a book:

  • Lack of conflict. If there are no real obstacles for the MC, there’s nothing to keep me on the edge of my seat when I’m reading. I can’t connect to stories where everything is easily resolved, and the outcome is obvious from the beginning. Also, the climax has to make the journey worth the effort. I’m always disappointed when the author skims over the resolution of the plot.
  • Contrived plots. Similarly, it makes me roll my eyes when I see the telltale hand of the author in the way events play out. The character with the vital information happens to turn up at precisely the right time to give it to the protagonist...I’ve seen this one too many times to count! At the same time, I’ve seen a lot of plots where the resolution comes out of nowhere, from a twist that the author has obviously just thought of on the spot and which has no relation to anything that has happened before it.
  • Characterisation issues – like passive heroines and too-perfect heroes (these tropes seem to go hand in hand, for some reason!) – if there’s one thing that really turns me off a story, it’s a protagonist who just accepts everything that’s happening to her, no matter how strange (this usually seems to happen in paranormal romance/urban fantasy). Even worse are heroines who just accept the hero’s word as law and that he’ll deal with every problem for her because she’s incapable of doing anything herself. *gag*
  • Unconvincing romance: I’ve developed an aversion to stories where the MC and the love interest hate each other at first sight, and then suddenly jump into bed together based on nothing more than physical attraction. How about working on emotional depth rather than including insta-lust just for the sake of it? There are some writers who can write this kind of ‘romance’ well (Jennifer L. Armentrout, for one), but the majority of the time, it doesn’t work.
  • Poor world-building. Word of advice: establish the rules of your world before you start writing. I can’t count the number of books which have had a nice premise but the world-building has disappointed because it’s clear that the author hadn’t thought out their world and established the rules. Sometimes there are direct contradictions, sometimes a new rule conveniently comes out of nowhere to save the day.  Both things annoy me to no end.
  • The opening: trust me, as a writer, I can completely sympathise with the woes and pitfalls of constructing an opening to your book that successfully draws the reader in. I still don’t have the perfect formula. But I know what NOT to include:
a)      An opening that explains too much, and is reliant on info-dumping.

b) An opening that doesn’t explain enough, and is therefore too confusing to follow.

  • Pacing, pacing, pacing. Why does a story have to be 90K words when it could be 70K? Why all the unnecessary tangents and redundant characters? Though I freely admit that I have the opposite problem: I don’t write ENOUGH, and my first drafts tend to be quite skeletal. But the general rule is: if it doesn’t need to be there, cut it. *hands over scissors*
  • Point of view switches: a couple of times, I’ve been surprised when the author suddenly switches to the viewpoint of a minor character – especially during a pivotal scene for the MC. Surely we want to be with the protagonist when they face their challenges? It’s rare that I find these random POV switches, but it happens.
  • Editing issues: most commonly, telling emotions rather than showing them, repetition, and relying on cliché rather than inventiveness. It makes the writing dull. It takes time to develop a unique authorial voice, but the writing is that much stronger for it.

These are some of my main pet peeves with manuscripts I read. But equally, there are lots of things I love to read, too, and that might be a topic for another post!


  1. Emma:

    Here's hoping the banks get everything all sorted out, and the trains run on time!

    Great post!! Loved the peeves you've listed. Great reminders for all of us.

  2. Good luck with the banks, that's got to be such a head ache!
    great post, though. World building is so important. Even with very popular, big name book sometimes I read things and it's so obvious that the author forgot the rules they had made or that they didn't have a way out and jumbled something together. So annoying. And I have read so many openings that are terrible and don't even fit the tone of the book. Honestly, it's awful. lol

    1. Thanks :) Yeah, it's annoying when you encounter these things in published books! I find I'm a lot more critical now I'm an intern.

  3. My prose tends to be very brief, especially since I write a lot of flash fiction. Pacing is such a complex issue that I feel too many people look at it too generically. For example, many epic fantasy novels look like they must be overwritten, even when they aren't. A lot of your peeves are basic rules of writing that any competent, experienced writer shouldn't make. I guess a lot of slush is just that.

    1. Very good point - I think a lot of these things suggest that the author submitted their work too early. Pacing's a difficult one, but my point was mainly directed at books I've read where the author brings in random sub-plots that do nothing but distract from the main storyline, or drag the pace out unnecessarily (most epic fantasy tends to be long due to the worldbuilding and complexity, which is absolutely fine). Saying that, it could well be a matter of personal preference!

  4. I hope everything gets sorted out soon. This is an awesome list and will definitely be helpful to any writer who stumbles across it.

  5. Excellent, excellent post! Most definitely sharing.

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