First of two posts
by Catherine E. McLean
The week after Christmas, I spent fifteen frustrating hours online searching for an e-book to download and test my CRUZ Tablet’s e-book reader function. Yes, I found plenty of e-books in four different genres that I like to read in. However, what I ended up downloading was Aesop’s Fables.
For the record, I never looked at any of the e-books’ prices, so that was not a factor. I just wanted a good read. So, as usual, I read the back-page blurbs or summaries. If that intrigued me, I read the first page. There might have been a good story to be read but, in virtually every instance, the author sabotaged their story with poor fiction and storytelling skills from the get-go.
This puzzled me, so I went back and looked at the book blurbs. I was astounded to find most were free downloads or less than $4.99 downloads. Then I discovered the books were e-published by the author, Smashwords, or the free e-publishing arm of Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. In other words, no one with real book-editing skills edited those e-books.
Okay, I did find one e-book that grabbed my attention, a PDF copy of the original 1968 book published by ROC. I also found other e-books by reputable print-publishers offering them in e-format. But guess what–all were copyrighted 2005 or earlier. I knew editors no longer edited but processed books for publication, however, I didn’t realize the scope of that effect on the quality of those e-books.
Now, I’ve heard agents, editors, and publishers say that 95% to 98% of the manuscripts they receive these days are unpublishable. Why is that? Because writing fiction is not as easy as it seems, especially in the computer age where just about everyone with a computer thinks they can write The Great American Novel.
The real issue I see is most peoples’ schooling involved learning the English language, grammar, and punctuation in order to communicate. That education did not emphasize fiction or how to become a storyteller.
So, what was the number one turn-off for me on those poor quality e-books I reviewed but didn’t buy? Actually, there were two: overuse of was/were and dull, passive narration.
Have you been thinking about being published or e-publishing? Want to prove to yourself that your story is better written then what I found in my search for an e-book? Well, I challenge you to take half an hour and do a simple test. All you have to do is print two (2) double-spaced pages of something you have written (that’s about 500 to 600 words depending on your font at 12 points). Next, take a highlighter and highlight every “was” you find. Count them. Keep that number handy. Now, turn the hard copy over so you don’t look at it.
Go to your computer and select those same pages (the same number of words you printed out as hard copy). Copy the text onto another document. Now, use your computer’s find feature and highlight feature to highlight all incidents of “was” on your screen. Count the instances. Now compare the total of the hard copy count to the computer count. How many did your eyes and mind miss? Correct the hard copy to agree with the computer count. In other words, find the ones you missed.
Next, set the hard copy pages side by side. This gives you a visual–you can actually SEE the overuse, the repetitions, the clusters.
If your pages were peppered with highlights, think about the sound of “was” (wuz). At some point, hearing “wuz” becomes a droning bee buzzing in the subconscious and conscious mind of the reader, eventually overpowering the story enjoyment until the reader quits reading.
Next, take the total number of wases and divide that number into the total number of words. Example: 528 words divided by 35 instances = 1 “was” every 15 words, which is equivalent to one in every sentence. (FYI: the 1 in 15 is an actual figure.) If you extrapolate 1 in 15 words to a 100,000 word novel, that’s 6,667 times was buzzes.
If you did this exercise, this challenge, please share your findings and conclusions. If you have any questions, or want more clarification, let me know.
Lastly, check back this afternoon for part two: passive narration.
Craft enhances talent.
***Early Bird Special Rates will end soon–check http://www.pennwriters.org for information on my online workshop “Cause & Effect Sequences” running Feb.1 through March 9, 2012.
***MY WEBSITE is http://www.WritersCheatSheets.com and do check “The Sampler” (topic this month is “Pronoun Reference Culprit “It”) which is at my blog: http://writerscheatsheets.blogspot.com
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